Faced with a cash-flow problem, most people would not think of going to the shopping mall. But officials at the University of South Florida in Tampa had just the opposite reaction. When the state legislature cut $20 million from the university's budget, administrators cut some class sections and increased the size of others.
The expanded classes, however, were too large for the university's existing classrooms. So university officials looked across the street to the movie theaters at the University Mall and found a solution.
Since January, four of the theaters at the University 16 have been modified--with better lighting and handicapped ramps--for use as classrooms. "With the budget cuts that we're facing, you have to be creative," says Michael Reich, spokesman for the university. "We were looking for innovative ways to make the cuts without hurting our core programs."
Although some may scoff at college classes held in movie theaters, administrators are confident that the university's reputation will not suffer. "You can still be a serious research institution while offering classes in new venues," says Reich.
For the mall, the set-up doesn't seem to have any drawbacks. "We love having students here," says General Manager Tom Locke. He adds that students will benefit from free parking and state-of-the-art "classrooms," which feature large screens, tiered seating and cup holders. The mall is also giving discounts and welcome bags to encourage students to stick around after class--to eat in the food court, shop in the stores or even catch a movie.