Access and Success at the University of South Florida

University of South FloridaOne of the great joys to this work is watching our partner institutions bring focus and innovation to policy and practice as they work to help more students succeed. An impressive example of this kind of focus and innovation is the University of South Florida, where leaders have been leaning into using Illume to help every student have his or her best chance at the dream of a degree.

With 15 years of solid commitment to strategic planning, they are demonstrating for the higher-education field that demography is not destiny, that every student can succeed given the right environment and support, and that doing this work thoroughly and thoughtfully nets the institution return on investment. Dr. Paul Dosal has been an inspiration in leading the change at USF with a dedicated team including a Persistence Committee representing more than 10 departments. I’m sharing a case study about this (below) so you can learn more about the fascinating case management model that employs academic advocates working with the Committee and our platform and apps to ensure every student at risk of not persisting is getting the highly-individualized, personal outreach they need to get back on the pathway to success.

Paul Dosal

Dr. Paul Dosal

USF had an aspirational goal to raise six-year graduation rates from 48 percent in 2009 to 70 percent. Their accompanying goal was to move first-year retention from the low 80s to 90 percent. They recently submitted data to the Board of Governors showing they hit the 90 percent and are on track to hit the 70 percent later this year.

This working smarter, faster and collaboratively with well-designed predictive models has opened up their institution to the chance to qualify for up to $15 million in performance-based funding later this year. And they did it while staying true to their mantra that demography is not destiny, also closing the achievement gaps by ethnicity and income while hitting these numbers!

It’s a double bottom line that can reward equity and ROI, and it doesn’t get much better than that. We’re certain they won’t stop there and will continue to strive for the very best for all students.

It’s worth the read and share with your colleagues. Keep up the great work Paul and team!


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  1. Mike Kersmarki says:

    “There’s a sense here that one of the key predictors of success in the College of Engineering is success in English comp. I guess engineers need to be able to write.”

    – Tom Miller, identified in an April 2 Tampa Bay Times story as an associate professor in the USF College of Engineering.

    Sunday’s story in the Times offered considerable insight into how Civitas Learning, in partnership with the University of South Florida, is refining the use of predictive analytics to mine student data at USF to generate better graduation rates.

    The wry comment by Professor Miller, quoted above, may be especially true when English is not a student’s native-born tongue.

    While I’m sure you’re aware of this phenomenon, I can cite two personal anecdotes that may be useful to help illustrate, and possibly spur new directions, for whatever is indicated in your own research.

    Earlier this year, I proofed and edited a 150-page doctoral thesis for a prominent out-of-state school that was authored by an engineering doctoral candidate born in Latin America. I also edited, earlier in my career, business stories that had been written by a reporter who was born and raised in a Spanish-speaking country.

    In both cases, the individuals spoke excellent conversational English and had lived in the USA for many years. In fact, the doctoral candidate had worked for more than a decade at a major U.S. technology firm before pursuing his doctorate to turn an idea into a company.

    But their writing generally needed more editing work. I believe this is so because people from different parts of the world organize language and related concepts differently than those born in the United States.

    Now, I’d be the first to admit that I may simply be stating the obvious. Of course, different languages will impact how sentences are constructed and thoughts are organized into writing.

    My ultimate point here is that foreign-born writers who have been able to easily talk with other English-speaking colleagues for many years, may not truly realize that their writing isn’t as concise and easy to understand as they believe it to be.

    And as the ratio continues to decrease for foreign-born to U.S.-born scientists and engineers in this country, such handicaps in the writing of these foreign-born men and women in the USA’s workforce could, at minimum, impact productivity.

    In worse case scenarios, such a handicap could lead to large business losses and even, in extreme cases, injuries and deaths.

    I’ll conclude with an anecdote from the doctoral candidate. We used Adobe Acrobat for the editing so my rewrites came in the form of ‘Suggestion’ balloons. There were enough ‘suggestion’ and ‘maybe you meant to say’ balloons that he asked his children, who were born in the states, if he really did need to reorganize his writing to such a degree.

    Time and time again, he related to me: Dad, that’s just not how you write it in English.’

    Now, don’t get me wrong. His scientific explanations were concise and to the point. And I don’t pretend to understand the math and physics of using various materials for large curved surfaces.

    But when he strayed away from the engineering, when he was making points about anything from thanking friends and family to outlining more generalized uses of his concept, he often fell short.

    All I’m saying is that if, as Professor Miller stated above that “engineers need to be able to write,” then Civitas and USF need to figure out a way to at least have a come-to-Jesus moment with foreign-born post-graduate STEM students about their writing and try to develop, early on, course work to help them not only speak like a native but to write like one.

    Our economy may be the better for it.

    Thank you, Dr. Milliron for allowing me comment on your blog.

    – Mike Kersmarki, Tampa