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USF launches an initiative to increase Latino student enrollment and graduation rates

USF Students talking at a table in the Marshall Student Center.
University of South Florida
University of South Florida
USF's Hispanic Heritage Month celebration in the Marshall Student Center on Tampa campus a few years ago.

The University of South Florida recently created a task force that would target the graduation gaps within the Hispanic student population.

USF recently formed a 15-member Advancing Latino Access and Success (ALAS) Task Force to increase campus diversity and create a more dynamic student body.

The members include leaders from across USF and Tampa Bay who will focus on developing strategies that will attempt to increase enrollment, recruitment, and graduation rates of Latino students.

Currently, more than 22% of USF undergraduates identify as Latino, and that percentage is expected to climb.

The ALAS Task Force plans to focus on the challenges and opportunities unique to Latino students.

USF's Vice President for Student Success, Paul Dosal, is the co-chair of the task force. He spoke with us about what the mission and goals of the task force are.

Paul Dosal: We see a need and an opportunity to be a bit more deliberate in terms of our efforts to recruit, enroll, and graduate Latino students. Given the demographics of the state and the growth in the Latino student population graduating from Florida high schools, we think we can enroll more.

In terms of their success rates, even though Hispanic students at USF graduate at rates far above the national average, we think we can still push them up a bit higher. And so that's why we're pulling together a task force to think creatively and strategically about how we can improve access and success.

Christina Loizou: Tell me about what you mean when referring to Latino access and success. What are some examples?

Paul Dosal: In terms of access, commonly understood to be entry into higher education, so access into the university.

Success simply put is graduation. But we define success more broadly than that, we look at success in terms of graduation with a degree of their choice and their preparation for competing in the global marketplace, landing a job at a decent salary, or moving on to professional school.

And what we have done at USF is build our Student Success movement on the philosophy that we've been promoting access for success. We try to link the two — we don't want to just bring students into USF, we want to make sure that they graduate on time with a degree of their choice.

Christina Loizou: What kind of strategies and methodologies will this task force focus on for the Hispanic student community?

Paul Dosal: Well, I'm not entirely sure yet, I don't want to anticipate the work and the wisdom of the task force. The task force has met once. And after that introductory meeting, the task force concurred that the first step would be a deep dive into the data so that we could understand how USF has performed, and how we might benchmark our performance against other institutions.

Christina Loizou: What other plans do you have in targeting the gaps within race and ethnicities in USF's student body?

Paul Dosal: We always analyze retention and graduation rates by race, ethnicity, income, and gender. And where we see gaps, we take note and then try to take action where appropriate. Our strategy has been, however, to lift all students' performance at the same time.

When we started this movement back in 2009, our performance levels were so low that we recognized we would be well advised to attempt to serve all students because the performance of all students, regardless of race, ethnicity, and income was just under average, below par. And so we've held to that philosophy and we are reluctant to target specific groups if it means that we give up on this philosophy.

However, we see gaps. And when we see gaps, we think deliberately about whether we could and should be a little more intentional about serving that group because perhaps something is missing, some service is missing, some program is missing.

And so this is a concern of mine when I look at the graduation rates now. Hispanics are graduating at a six year graduation rate of 71%. That's well above the national average. However, it's below white, Black, and Asian students at USF. It's not a big gap as we are talking three or four points, but it's not closed in three years.

We want this task force to remain equally focused on access and success. And so I don't want to continue to boost Hispanic student enrollment if our Hispanic student success rates aren't growing at the same time. I will think something's wrong if that doesn't happen. I want to see both go up and continue to go up. It's about deliberately serving Hispanic students well, and that's our goal here.

Christina Loizou is a WUSF Rush Family/USF Zimmerman School Digital News intern for the fall of 2021, her second semester with WUSF.
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