The Florida Board of Governors has approved an ambitious five-year plan for the University of Central Florida to join the ranks of the state’s elite “preeminent research universities.”

The approval Thursday means UCF has an official path to take it to enter the state’s designated realm now occupied only by the Florida’s two so-called flagship state universities, the University of Florida and Florida State University.

If it can achieve that upper-tier designation created by the Board of Governors, UCF can expect more annual state funding.

But the path and ultimate standing should mean far more than just a boost in state dollars, as it would bust the Orlando school loose from its long-standing image of regional state university.

Last February the Board of Governors granted UCF and the University of South Florida the newly-created status of “emerging” preeminent research universities. With the approval of its path to preeminence, UCF gets a $5 million boost in state funding, which will be used to pursue the path.

“With your ongoing support, UCF will help advance Florida to national prominence as we make Central Florida an extraordinary place to study, to work, to play, and to live,” UCF President John Hitt told board members at their meeting Thursday at New College in Sarasota.

The path to the top won’t be easy. Yet it would require UCF to meet a number of benchmarks that national academic groups, and agencies and organizations that fund university research, already hold dearly as measures of any university’s quality. Among them:UCF gets state approval to seek upper-tier status as ‘preeminent research university

– Increasing freshman retention rate from the current 89.1 percent to 92 percent, exceeding the state threshold of 90 percent.

– Increasing the number of National Academy members among UCF’s faculty. There are currently two, including one hired this year, and the goal is six by 2021.

– Increasing spending in science and engineering research from this year’s $170 million to at least $218 million in 2021, exceeding the state benchmark of $200 million.

– Increasing the number of post-doctoral appointees to 200 by 2021. There are now 68.

– Increasing the university’s endowment to $500 million, a goal that Hitt said may take longer than five years. The university’s endowment currently is just $151 million, though the UCF has just taken public what had been a quiet-phase, ambitious fundraising drive aiming at that half-billion goal.

“UCF will remain diligent in building on the metrics we have reached. And we will use the emerging preeminence funding to help us attain full preeminence status,” Hitt stated in a news release issued by the university.

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