Interview with Florida International University President Mark B. Rosenberg, PhD
Some 84 percent of low-income students and 59 percent of students of color do not go on to graduate from college. However, Florida International University (FIU), the number one university in the nation in awarding bachelor’s degrees to minorities, is working to turn the tide. With its Next Horizon fundraising campaign, it hopes to assist these students on their path to success. President Mark. B. Rosenberg talked to Academic Leader about the challenges and the program.
- Do you have disparities in graduation rates for any groups of students at FIU? What strategies have you implemented to reduce these disparities?
At FIU we are proud that students of all ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds are making excellent progress towards graduation. The first-to-second-year retention rate of first-time-in-college students over the past five years has consistently exceeded 84 percent. Hispanic students, on average, are retained at higher rates. Our black students are retained at rates slightly lower than average, with an overall increase in retention over five years at roughly 2 percent. In terms of graduation, our Hispanic students meet or exceed the average four- and six-year graduations rates. While we have not reached parity with the graduation rates of our black students, the four-year graduation rate has increased by 16 percent and the six-year rate by 11 percent over the past five and three years, respectively. Our Pell-eligible students are also retained and graduate at rates equal to or higher than students who do not receive a Pell grant.
To address retention and graduation, we have implemented coordinated outreach campaigns, developed a student coaching initiative, and we have used data to identify key points in the student life cycle where direct intervention can be most successful. Furthermore, we have identified more than 17 “gateway” courses that had high rates of D, F, or withdrawal grades. These courses have been re-designed to foster student success and thus far, these re-design efforts have resulted in nearly 8,000 additional successful course completions.
- Why is it important for FIU to ensure that the university is actively reducing disparities in graduation rates?
In addition to academic improvements, FIU participated in the Association of American Colleges & Universities’ (AAC&U) Committing to Equity and Inclusive Excellence: Campus-Based Strategies for Student Success project. By participating in the project, we learned that lack of awareness around high impact practices on campus was a significant barrier to the success of our black students. The results of this project led to an increased focus on developing culturally-responsive teaching; recognizing the need to better market student resources and services; and a recognition that everyone, from student to administrators, must be involved to ensure we are building equity-minded practices.
FIU is committed to serving our community, and, since the majority of our students come from the surrounding community, ensuring their timely graduation is critical. The Social Mobility Index and the Equal Opportunity Project has recognized FIU as a top university for increasing the social mobility of our students, and we take this responsibility seriously. We continue to work with internal and external stakeholders, including our K-12 and community college partners, to prepare students for college and career success well before they are officially admitted. FIU will continue to develop innovative student success initiatives to ensure that we increase the retention and graduation of all of our students, while employing equity-minded practices to eliminate disparities and maintain equity once achieved.
- Tell me about FIU’s Next Horizon campaign.
Next Horizon is a $750 million campaign, the largest in FIU history, that focuses on the pillars of student success and research excellence. Twenty-five percent of our undergraduates are first generation and 85 percent of our students are minorities. We have set a goal of $145 million to increase scholarships and student support so we have the ability to help each and every outstanding student who wishes to attend FIU.
- Why do you feel a fundraising campaign is the best way to address the problem?
Scholarships are a must to help our students. More than two-thirds of our students receive financial aid, but there are still unmet needs. The only way to generate adequate support to help these students is through private philanthropy. We have found that scholarships ranging from $500 to $2,000 can make the difference between enrolling full-time, completing a degree on time, or dropping out.
- Are you instituting any other support programs to help these students succeed?
Over the past few years, FIU has undergone a significant transformation geared toward supporting our students every step of the way and helping them learn and move forward in their education. We have redesigned “gateway courses” that were keeping our students from advancing; we have added learning assistants to key courses with excellent results; and have hired more than 100 advisors, armed them with predictive technology, and tasked them with identifying and removing obstacles so that students stay on track toward graduation. This high-tech, high-touch approach has been very successful for us.
- What advice would you have for institutions who might like to attempt a similar campaign?
Our campaign strategy is built around student success and research excellence. We believe the key to our success is our focus and clearly-communicated message that FIU is a student-centric institution looking to change lives.