Three of Florida’s state universities are joining forces to better prepare transfer students who come from Florida’s state colleges and improve their graduation and retention rates. The University of Central Florida, Florida International University and the University of South Florida — which together make up the Florida Consortium of Metropolitan Research Universities — have collectively received a $1.25 million grant from the Helios Education Foundation to expand transfer student success over the next four years.

“Everyone should have access to a high-quality college degree,” says Pam Cavanaugh, associate vice provost for UCF Connect. “Together with our partners, UCF has the opportunity to collaborate and discover ways to strengthen support for transfer students and help them identify the right pathway to earning a degree that will change their lives, and the lives of their families, for generations to come.”

Sixty-four percent of all transfer students completing an associate in arts degree at Florida’s 28 state colleges enroll at FIU, UCF, or USF and each year, over 50,000 transfer students attend one of the three Consortium universities.

Already established leaders in transfer student success, UCF, FIU and USF will utilize the funds to identify and address the barriers to student success, reduce the time needed for students to complete a degree, and increase campus involvement. The Consortium will create solutions in three areas: increased coaching and advising to reduce “transfer shock;” the development of a dashboard to help students with degree planning; and targeted retention strategies to ensure students are engaged and connected to each campus community.

UCF has for years placed a priority on ensuring transfer students have access to resources and support. Last year, 87.5% of the 2019-2020 transfer student cohort returned to UCF to continue their studies, marking the highest one-year retention rate to date. UCF has the largest number of transfer students among all of Florida’s public universities with more than 11,000 transfer students entering during the 2020-21 academic year.

UCF has the largest number of transfer students among all of Florida’s public universities with more than 11,000 transfer students entering during the 2020-21 academic year.

UCF has more than 30 success coaches and peer coaches who assist transfer students from before they enroll at their state college through their graduation from UCF, providing personalized support and guidance along the way. The coaches help students overcome challenges and stay motivated to reach academic, career and personal goals. UCF will use its portion of the grant to enhance its Coaching Academy, which will serve as a training and resource center for other universities and amplify UCF’s model across the state. The Academy will provide customized training to individuals, teams and organizations to further develop a culture of coaching within an institution.

“We know how critical it is for students to have individual, tailored assistance,” says Cavanaugh. “Our coaching model gives every transfer student a ‘go to’ person who serves as a constant and consistent presence for them. We’ve seen what a difference this makes for our students, and we look forward to working with our partners to scale this model across the state.”

More than 30% of new undergraduates enrolled each year at UCF come through the DirectConnect to UCF program, which guarantees admission to UCF for students with an associate degree or articulated degree from one of six partner state colleges. Since DirectConnect to UCF was established in 2006, UCF has conferred 61,924 degrees to students participating in the program. A national model, DirectConnect to UCF has significantly increased the number of minority, low-income and first-generation students who earn a college degree.

“Helios believes a high-quality education should be within reach of every student. Ensuring students experience a smooth transition between Florida’s state colleges and universities is essential to student success and degree completion,” says Paul J. Luna, president and CEO, Helios Education Foundation.

The Florida Consortium of Metropolitan Research Universities and Helios Education Foundation have partnered since 2016 to elevate the success and degree completion of first-generation, minority and underserved students in the most populous metropolitan regions of South Florida, Central Florida, and Tampa Bay.