USF Finds Preeminence in Serving Students

Author: Dr. Judy Genshaft, President of the University of South Florida

July 31, 2018

Across the national higher education landscape, there has never been more emphasis placed on metrics-based ranking systems. Administrators, faculty, students and parents are looking more and more to independent sources to validate universities’ quality across a variety of measures. Educators often lament ranking systems as limiting and not wholly representative of the comprehensive benefits a higher education offers. But what these arguments may ignore are the indirect benefits that come not from the rankings themselves, but from the process by which they are earned.

Earlier this summer, the University of South Florida achieved a major ranking milestone for public universities in the state of Florida. Our Board of Governors, which oversees the 12-member State University System, designated USF as a Preeminent State Research University, joining just two other institutions in this elite category and making us eligible for millions more in state funding each year.

The Preeminence program rewards high-achieving universities based on 12 rigorous metrics, including retention and graduation rates. It also recognizes the contributions that research universities specifically make to our state economy by rewarding universities for patents awarded, research expenditures and post-doctoral appointees.

But for us, the journey to achieve Preeminence was most meaningful because of the spirit of creativity, collaboration and dedication borne of our drive toward greater excellence. Because of this new culture, achieving the Preeminence designation is not the end of our journey. Our institution remains focused on finding new approaches, innovations and discoveries that benefit our students and our communities.

With the belief that every student can and will succeed with the right support, we have implemented policy changes, predictive analytics and a case management approach to identify and target at-risk students. Retention has improved to 90 percent after plateauing at 86 percent in 2012. Our six-year graduation rate for all students is 71 percent, compared to 47 percent in 2009.

Through these efforts, we have eliminated the graduation rate gap by race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status. For 2016-17, the graduation rate for Hispanic students was 71.3 percent; for black students, 73.9 percent; and for white students, 67.7 percent.

The more that we can help our students stay in school and become career-ready, the more we are contributing to the nation’s talent pipeline, where new types of jobs demand new skills. Throughout higher education, we have to ensure that our students are equipped to navigate an increasingly knowledge-based economy. 

It starts with us, but our efforts also extend to the communities we serve. In our case, working with major industries throughout the Tampa Bay region – Nielsen, Jabil, Tech Data and Raymond James to name just a few – helps our students gain valuable real-world experiences that will enhance their career opportunities. Our partnerships with private industry also help ensure that the curriculum we offer is responsive to the needs of the modern marketplace.

The Helios Education Foundation also is an incredibly supportive partner. Over the past 13 years, it has contributed more than $13 million to USF – and when you add in $2.6 million in state matching funds, the total grows to $15.8 million. Among key areas of support are scholarships, including the USF Latino Scholarship Program, as well as programs in the College of Education and the Honors College.

Our work is making a difference. A new study from the Teachers College at Columbia University, which included 3,000 individuals across the country, offers some positive signs. According to the authors of “Americans’ Views of Higher Education as a Public and Private Good,” more than three-quarters of respondents believe public spending on higher education is an excellent or good investment. And the majority of respondents believe American colleges and universities benefit society as well as individual graduates.

Rankings programs like Preeminence help to focus our efforts so that we can continue to move the needle toward further excellence. As our institutions improve, the real winners are the students we serve, whose higher education experiences will have a ripple effect that benefits all of our society.

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