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Helping Students Achieve Academic Excellence

At UCF, one of our top priorities is ensuring that every student has an opportunity to earn a high-quality education at an affordable cost. A college degree improves lives. It paves the way to a stable career and financial stability. Higher education makes a positive impact on lives by helping break the cycle of intergenerational hardship. As a result of the university’s success in its social mobility efforts, UCF was ranked No. 2 in the nation for social mobility impact by Education Reform Now and among the top public universities for social mobility, graduate indebtedness, and graduation and retention by U.S. News & World Report.

Committed to Helping All Students Succeed

We realize that every student is different and that many face challenges and hurdles to achieving their dream of a college education. Students of all backgrounds, including those who are first-generation or from disadvantaged families, must have access to the resources and tools needed to succeed. This transforms the future for generations to come and creates a powerful ripple effect.

Through partnerships, such as the University Innovation Alliance and the Florida Consortium of Metropolitan Research Universities, we collaborate with other innovative universities in sharing knowledge, supporting student success and increasing the diversity of college graduates. This amplifies our commitment to building a better future and helping students from application through graduation and beyond.

The Value of a College Degree

A college degree is vital in achieving upward mobility. There is a positive relationship between a student earning their degree and making social and economic progress. Higher education provides a path to achieving life-changing benefits. While most often it is associated with financial stability, a degree also provides networking opportunities, increases civic engagement and encourages an overall healthier lifestyle. Degree attainment opens doors to new opportunities and closes the gap between race, class and economic inequalities.

US News 2024 Best College for Social Mobility
UCF graduates in cap and gown

Invest in a better future for all

Eliminating achievement gaps and reducing barriers for students of all backgrounds and incomes has been a decade-long focus for UCF. As a result, the university has made significant strides in reducing achievement gaps among student populations, dramatically outperforming the national average in key areas.

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UCF graduate - social mobility

Closing the Gap: FTIC 6-Year Graduation Rates

UCF is committed to eliminating achievement gaps and reducing barriers for students of all backgrounds. And over the past decade, we’ve seen great strides. The Black and Hispanic student 6-year graduation achievement gaps are within 1 percentage point from their white counterparts, outperforming the national average. This achievement ensures that all students have the same access and success to earn a high-quality, affordable degree at UCF.

Black Student
Graduation Rates

Over the past 10 years, UCF’s Black 6-year graduation rates increased 5.3 percentage points while increasing only 3.9 percentage points nationally.

Hispanic Student
Graduation Rates

Over the past 10 years, UCF’s Hispanic 6-year graduation rates increased 15.8 percentage points while increasing only 6.7 percentage points nationally.

Social Mobility

Education Reform Now ranked UCF No. 2 for social mobility impact. This was calculated by enrollment and graduation rates, default rates on student loans and the number of students paying down federal loans.

Degree Completion

In 2020-21, more than 7,900 Pell Grant students completed their bachelor’s degree at UCF. Graduation rates correlate with getting a stable job and better income — two important factors to social mobility.

Federal Aid

More than $105M in Pell Grant aid was awarded to UCF students in 2019-20, averaging $4,900 per student. This amount covered 76 percent of UCF Tuition and Fees for the same academic year. Additionally, 57 percent of FTIC students graduated with no educational debt.

Diverse & Inclusive

UCF set new records for diversity in Fall 2021: 49.1 percent of students are a member of a traditionally underrepresented group. With 27.8 percent Hispanic enrollment, UCF is designated a Hispanic Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education.

Best Value

Fifty-seven percent of first-time-in-college students graduate without any educational debt. It’s one of the reasons Kiplinger, Forbes, The Princeton Review and U.S. News & World Report all rank a UCF education among the nation’s best values.

First-Gen Students

More than 20% of the UCF student body is comprised of first-generation college students. The university focuses on providing access to students of all backgrounds to help shape a better future.

UCF Provides Access and Opportunity

UCF enrolls more Pell Grant students than the 12 Ivy Plus universities combined. Each year, nearly 22,000 Pell Grant students attend UCF. And along their college journey, we ensure they have the resources, support services and tools needed to succeed. We work hard to ensure that students who start here, finish here. In fact, 69 percent of Pell Grant students who enroll at UCF continue on to complete their degree.

A chart depicting Pell Grant enrollment rates of UCF compared to the 12 Ivy Plus universities.

President Cartwright’s Path as a First-Generation College Student

UCF President Alexander N. Cartwright’s path to college mirrors that of nearly one in five UCF students. He was the first in his family to attend college. A native of the Bahamas, Cartwright’s journey to higher education was not traditional. But that didn’t stop him from pursuing his dreams.

Cartwright’s educational journey in the United States began at age 17. After earning his GED, he went to a community college and then took on a part-time job while attending the University of Iowa to help pay for classes. Cartwright earned his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Iowa, and he has since become an internationally recognized scholar in photonics. Today, Cartwright serves as the university’s sixth president and is committed to ensuring that students from all backgrounds have access to opportunity and that they’re able to achieve their dreams.

Learn more about Dr. Cartwright’s journey to higher education.

Support First-Generation Students

Philanthropy creates access and opportunity for deserving students. UCF’s First Generation Matching Grant helps transform the future for generations to come.

UCF is this combination of an institution that has a tremendous number of first-generation and Pell [Grant]-eligible students — I was both of those — and includes a diverse mixture of people. It puts us in a strong position to be a role model.”

— UCF President Alexander N. Cartwright

Alumni Spotlight: Shaïka Surprise ’20

“Education provides us with an opportunity to impact our lives, those around us and society. The mentors and experiences I had at UCF led me to where I am now.” Shaïka Surprise, a first-generation college student and former foster care student, found her place of belonging after attending the Multicultural Academic and Support Services Student Success Conference. While at UCF, Shaïka became involved in Knights Alliance, the First-Generation Program and Sister 2 Sister. The connections she formed along the way helped provide a sense of motivation — encouraging and challenging her throughout her college journey. She earned a bachelor’s in interdisciplinary studies with a minor in psychology. Today, Shaïka works for Aspire Health Partners where she helps make a difference in other people’s lives. She will continue her education in the mental health field by pursuing a graduate degree in Spring 2022.

Supporting Low-Income and First-Generation Students

With forward-thinking resources and services, including TRiO, the McNair Scholars Program and the First-Generation Program, UCF empowers underserved students to succeed through access, mentoring and scholarships. Creating programs that support student success is a key value of the university.

Many first-generation or low-income students have questions about the college experience. They often lack the family history in higher education that their peers have. Specialized programs at UCF are designed to provide the tools they need to succeed, along with the personal attention of knowledgeable mentors that guide them along the way. We strive to engage all students and show them the possibilities available to achieve their dreams.

TRiO Center

The TRiO Center at UCF supports students who are first-generation in college, low-income and/or have a documented disability during their educational journey. Its programs provide academic support services, opportunities and resources to both high school and college students. From strengthening professional and personal skills to inspiring academic excellence, the center empowers students to achieve anything they set out to do. Development workshops, academic coaching, academic tutoring, peer mentoring and other services give students the tools needed to succeed in school and in life. The services offered cover a wide range of topics including standardized tests, graduate and professional school preparation, academic success, career readiness and personal development. Plus, there is no cost to participate since TRiO programs are funded by the U.S. Department of Education.
Learn more about the TRiO Center

McNair Scholars Program

Part of the federal TRiO program, the McNair Scholars Program offers research opportunities and other activities to prepare low-income and first-generation undergraduate students for an advanced degree. Students will explore a range of information about planning for a master’s or doctoral degree, such as the application process, funding graduate school, summer research programs and fellowships. Other resources include meeting with graduate school faculty and staff, as well as getting one-on-one help from advisors as students begin to transition from their undergraduate studies to a graduate program. This ensures strong graduate school candidates and future leaders who will contribute to the UCF community and the world around them.
Learn more about the McNair Scholars Program

First-Generation Program

Students create a meaningful experience at UCF through the resources available through our First-Generation Program. Designed for first-generation students, this program provides guidance and advising from faculty and staff, as well as fellow Knights. They’ll get answers to questions about scholarships, academic success, getting involved on campus and internships to build a solid foundation. This program guides students through the college experience, from the first day through graduation and beyond.
Learn more about the First-Generation Program

What are Pell Grants?

The federal Pell Grant was created in 1972 as a means to help low-income undergraduate and some postbaccalaureate students pay for college. The need-based grant can be applied to educational expenses such as tuition and fees, room and board, and books and supplies. As the largest grant program offered by the Department of Education, it is unlike other forms of aid in that it does not need to be repaid.

Throughout its history, the Pell Grant has helped students overcome financial obstacles and provided a path to a college education for all students regardless of background. The minimum and maximum award amounts vary by academic year; however, they have not always kept pace with inflation. Today, the Pell Grant covers roughly 29 percent of the national average tuition rate compared to 79 percent in 1977. However, a student’s Pell award goes much further at UCF where tuition rates are nearly 40 percent less than the national average.

How Does the Pell Grant Work?

To apply for the Pell Grant, students just need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year. The FAFSA opens on October 1 for the following school year and closes on June 30. The amount a student will receive depends on several factors, including:
  • Expected Family Contribution
  • Cost of attendance
  • Full- or part-time status

We understand that applying for financial aid opportunities can be overwhelming and confusing, especially for students who are the first in their families to attend college or may not have guidance to complete them. UCF financial assistance counselors are available to help students through the financial aid process and discuss options, such as the Pell Grant, that can help students pay for college.

Stronger Together

As a member institution of the University Innovation Alliance, UCF develops and shares innovative solutions that help students overcome barriers to success in earning their degree. The alliance allows us to collaborate with other high-quality universities in eliminating disparity across student populations and ensuring more low-income students achieve their dream of a college degree. Since 2014, the alliance has collectively graduated 37 percent more low-income graduates and 73 percent more graduates of color.

Additionally, we’re helping strengthen Florida’s talent pipeline through our collaborative work with the Florida Consortium of Metropolitan Research Universities. This partnership — made up of several Florida universities — allows us to share knowledge and support student success to improve the lives and livelihoods of Florida’s next-generation workforce and leaders. Together, we develop solutions to accelerate learner achievement and expand access to economic opportunity.