The University of South Florida, Florida International University and the University of Central Florida – the state’s three largest metropolitan research universities – are teaming up in an effort to improve graduation rates as well as the number of degrees they award in high-demand areas.
Combined, the Florida Consortium of Metropolitan Research Universities (FCMRU) serve an area that includes almost two-thirds percent of the state’s population and nearly half of the students enrolled in the State University System.
"It’s very empowering to join to other institutions that have similar students in a similar context in a similar and similar missions," said Douglas Robertson, Dean of Undergraduate Education at FIU in Miami. "And what we’re finding is that we are improving our performance for students by sharing best practices in ways that we couldn’t do by ourselves."
The consortium, which has been under development for almost two years, recently held a "student success" luncheon at USF's Tampa campus that brought together 300 faculty and staff members from the three universities.
Those members have developed a list of goals for the FCMRU, including awarding another 3,600 baccalaureate degrees a year – a 12 percent increase, raising the six-year graduation rate for minority students by four percent to 67 percent, increasing the number of graduates employed in Florida or continuing their education in-state by three percent to 79 percent, and increasing graduates’ salaries by ten percent to an average of 39-thousand dollars.
Those last three figures are among the areas the Florida Board of Governors ranks state universities in to determine how much extra 'performance funding' schools receive.
"The three institutions have basically been in the top three for performance metrics for the last three years that they’ve had it," Robertson said. "So it’s an investment with institutions that already have a great track record and those kind of investments attract other investments."
Paul Dosal, USF’s Vice Provost for Student Success, said the consortium will use a number of tools and methods to try to reach these goals. Perhaps none will be bigger than predictive analytics – using past data to forecast future outcomes.
"Predictive analytics is the foundation for it, helping us to identify the at-risk student and then putting those at-risk students on a pathway to success and applying some targeted approaches so that we make sure those at-risk students receive the support they need on that path to success, which includes career readiness from the start of their college career," Dosal said.
Dosal said that reaching students includes keeping an eye not just on their in-class performance, but also on their choice of classes.
"We’ve learned for example that sometimes students are taking what we are now calling "toxic combinations" of courses, that maybe you shouldn’t try organic chemistry and calculus in the same semester, maybe you should the one, get it through, and then move on," Dosal said. "Through our predictive analytics platform and our advising, we might be able to do that – say, when they try to register a red light might come on and say ‘Don’t do that, toxic, stay away from it.’"
The FCMRU has picked up backing from a major supporter, the Helios Education Foundation.
"We partner with universities like USF and others on ‘How do we support students, especially students from under-served communities, first generation college students, those who may need a little extra support, to ensure that they not only have access to higher education or to a university environment but that they are able to complete that degree?’" said Foundation President/CEO Paul Luna.
Helios has committed to providing over half a million dollars over five years for the group’s administrative costs. Luna says that’s due in part to the three schools committing more than a million of their own dollars to the partnership.
"We want to acknowledge that each university is investing in this kind of consortium on their own, Luna said. "So to see the universities put their own resources - to have skin in the game - was something that we really were impressed by and drove us to provide our investment as well."
And he added that it’s good to see universities that usually compete with one another work together with student success in mind.
"We recognize that universities by history and by definition are set up to compete against each other," Luna said. "They compete for students, they compete to succeed, they compete to do the best they can as compared to others. But what has really been unique and what we really value in the Florida Consortium partnership, is there’s also a recognition and acknowledgement that this is about serving all students in Florida well."
The FCMRU, which received $8.5 million in grants from the Florida Board of Governors in 2014, has requested an additional $12 million in funding from the Florida Legislature.
Dosal adds that an offer has been made to a prospective Executive Director, who will be based at UCF, the administrative home of the FCMRU.