The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) today named UCF a finalist for the 2019 Degree Completion Award. UCF is one of only three universities in the nation named a finalist — along with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the University of Rhode Island — for employing innovative approaches to improve degree completion while ensuring educational quality.
“Efforts to retain and graduate African American and Hispanic students reflect our broader commitment not only to admit more underrepresented students, but to see them succeed and graduate in large numbers,” says Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Elizabeth A. Dooley.
UCF was specifically recognized for making great strides in addressing disparity between retention and graduation rates of African American and Hispanic students and their white counterparts.
“UCF awards more than 16,000 degrees annually, and efforts to retain and graduate African American and Hispanic students reflect our broader commitment not only to admit more underrepresented students, but to see them succeed and graduate in large numbers, driving greater social and economic mobility,” says Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Elizabeth A. Dooley. “UCF students defy statistics, significantly outperforming national averages.”
Today, UCF ranks second among public and private institutions for bachelor’s degrees awarded to African American and Hispanic students. While the number of overall students has more than tripled since 1992 and more than doubled since 2000, the university has made concerted efforts to improve the retention and graduation rates, and it shows.
Last year, first-year retention rates for African American and Hispanic students exceeded the university’s overall retention rate for the first time. And the six-year graduation rate gap between African American and Hispanic students and their white counterparts are now just a third and a quarter of what they were a decade ago, respectively. The six-year graduation rate for African American students trails that of white students by 3.7 percentage points, compared with 23.5 percentage points nationally. The rate for Hispanic students is just 1 percentage point less than that for white students, compared with a 12 percentage point gap nationally.
The university achieved this by leading a multidimensional effort to eliminate barriers to student success.
UCF has worked to expand access, offering guaranteed admission for students from six regional state colleges through DirectConnect to UCF, providing direct admission to Florida students with grade point averages putting them in the top 10 percent of their class, and a six-week summer bridge program to ensure that students who enroll can successfully make the transition to college. UCF has also created programs to ensure academic success once enrolled, such as the school’s PRIME STEM Career Academy, which provides tools to first-generation and low-income students preparing them for STEM careers. Meanwhile, a mentoring program pairs African American students with staff and faculty mentors who help them achieve personal, academic and career goals. To assist with potential financial barriers, the university has implemented a completion grants program providing emergency funding to students nearing graduation who have run out of money to pay for college just shy of earning their degree.
“UCF’s successes are informed by data and based upon a holistic approach that helps more students access higher education, gain a sense of belonging and empowerment, and best prepare them for life after graduation,” Dooley says. “Ultimately, the needs of Orlando’s growing region dictate that UCF be a catalyst for lifting lives and livelihoods of the community it serves, and UCF is proud to be an example for other universities in their pursuits of greater student success and degree attainment.”
APLU is a research, policy and advocacy organization dedicated to strengthening and advancing the work of public universities in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, four U.S. territories, Canada and Mexico. The association includes 24 university systems and 210 universities, including 23 historically black colleges and universities and several Hispanic Serving Institutions.
Open to all APLU members and determined by a panel of reviewers, the annual Degree Completion Award winner recognizes and celebrates a school’s role as a national leader in developing innovative programs to increase retention and graduation. The winner will be announced and all finalists will be recognized at the APLU Annual Meeting, November 10-12, in San Diego, California.
“We’re thrilled to spotlight this year’s APLU Degree Completion Award finalists for their exceptional work advancing degree completion,” says APLU President Peter McPherson. “Public universities are the nation’s great engines of upward mobility and the finalists are at the leading edge of further expanding college access, equity and completion.”