As part of its ongoing efforts to increase degree completion, APLU named the University of Central Florida, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and the University of Rhode Island as finalists for its 2019 Degree Completion Award. The annual prize works to identify, recognize, and reward institutions that employ innovative approaches to improve retention and degree completion. One of the three finalists will be named the 2019 Degree Completion Award winner during the APLU Annual Meeting, November 10-12, in San Diego, California. In this post, APLU profiles the University of Central Florida’s efforts to improve retention and degree completion.
The University of Central Florida (UCF) has led 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, 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. A mentoring program, meanwhile, pairs African American students with staff and faculty mentors who help them achieve personal, academic, and career goals. Finally, 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.
This holistic student-centered transformation has yielded a host of progress: Last year, freshman retention rates for African American and Hispanic students exceeded the university’s overall retention rate for the first time. The gap between African American and Hispanic students’ six-graduation rates and that of white students 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 of white students, compared with a 12 percentage point gap nationally.