Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Financial aid, advising, and housing key to FAMU's graduation rate strategy

For the past three years, FAMU's lower division students (those with fewer than 60 credit hours) have taken higher course loads than their peers at the University of Florida. This has set FAMU on the right path for a higher six-year graduation rate.

This important step forward did not happen by accident. It is the result of a carefully crafted strategy for making college more affordable for FAMU's students. FAMU's Divisions of University Relations, Student Affairs, Administrative and Financial Services, and Academic Affairs have all played very important roles in this process.

Fee breaks and more generous financial aid to encourage higher course loads

President James H. Ammons' administration has beefed up scholarships and rolled out bigger fee breaks to help students obtain more money for classes.

A big part of the increase in scholarship money has come from the Division of University Relations' ongoing efforts to rebuild the Industry Cluster, a major source of private giving. Alumni donations to the university foundation have also sharply risen since Ammons was appointed president.

The Division of Administrative and Financial Services also recommended new out-of-state fee breaks to the Board of Trustees (BOT). These fee breaks, which the BOT approved, are part of the university's efforts to help these students boost their course loads. FAMU awarded $2.7M in out-state-breaks in 2009-2010. That climbed to $3.8M in 2010-2011.

In 2009-2010, Chief Financial Officer Teresa Hardee and then-Student Body President Gallop Franklin, II successfully persuaded the BOT to waive the seven percent differential tuition increase for students who qualify for the need-based Florida Public Student Assistance Grant (FPSAG). That meant that FPSAG recipients only faced the mandatory six percent tuition hike required by the legislature, instead the total 15 percent increase placed on the majority of FAMU students.

These fee breaks and scholarships were complemented by U.S. President Barack Obama's leadership in increasing Pell Grant awards. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 boosted the maximum Pell Grant award by $500 to $5,350 for 2009-2010. The maximum award went up to $5,550 in 2010-2011 as a result of additional funds from the College Cost Reduction and Access Act.

Stronger advising and the expansion of on-campus housing

FAMU is working to maintain its success in boosting student course loads with additional initiatives that will save students money.

The Division of Academic Affairs led by Provost Cynthia Hughes-Harris has made more academic advisors available on campus and stepped up its requirement for students to meet with them on a regular basis. This helps prevent students from taking unnecessary courses that cost them lots of cash and slow down their path to graduation.

For example, FAMU is beginning to require most freshmen admitted through the profile assessment process to enroll in summer classes immediately after high school graduation. These students are being giving specialized advising during the summer months.

The Divisions of Student Affairs and Administrative and Financial Services are also working hard to expand on-campus housing. The university recently reopened Sampson & Young Halls, which added 208 beds and brought to total number up to 2,692. FAMU’s next priority is to complete its brand new Polkinghorne Village by 2013. That will add 800 more beds to campus and bring the total up to 3,492.

Former Vice-President of Student Affairs Roland H. Gaines and current Vice-President for Student Affairs William E. Hudson, Jr. have both stated that the expansion of on-campus housing will help improve FAMU’s six-year graduation rate. Campus housing rental rates are usually much cheaper than private-owned apartments. Students also save money by using campus meal plans and walking to class instead of driving. That leaves them with more dollars to spend on courses.

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