Monday, July 23, 2012

FAMU's grad rate neck-and-neck with FAU and FIU's despite its profile admit rate

The Orlando Sentinel, following the lead of the Florida Board of Governors, is dedicating lots of attention to FAMU's six-year graduation rate, which was 39 percent in 2010-2011. Its attempts to link this to so-called "unprepared" students doesn't add up when the six-year graduation rate at FAMU is compared to that of Florida Atlantic University (FAU) and Florida International University (FIU).

FAU and FIU's six-year graduation rates were both 41 percent in 2010-2011. Those two universities barely graduate more students than FAMU in six years despite the fact that they only admit a very small number of students who don't meet the State University System of Florida's (SUS) standard admissions requirements.

"FAMU's four-year graduation rate is a dismal 12 percent; its six-year rate is 39 percent — the state's lowest," the Orlando Sentinel editorial board wrote. "That owes, in part, to [former President James H.] Ammons' insistence on admitting applicants who are unprepared for college rigor. Students who flunk out or graduate with the state's highest debt loads."

An article by Sentinel reporter Denise-Marie Balona suggested that FAMU’s decision to admit a large number of students through the profile assessment process is a major reason that its six-year graduation rate isn’t higher.

"In recent years, FAMU has opened its doors to a skyrocketing number of students who did not meet the most basic admissions criteria," Balona wrote. "Over the past several years, FAMU has hiked up its percentage of so-called "profile admits," students whose grades or SAT scores fell short, who did not take enough math in high school or who failed to meet other requirements."

"Profile admits" are students who are accepted into the SUS through the "profile assessment" process. The guidelines for this process are outlined in Florida Board of Governors Regulation 6.002, which states: "Applicants who are not eligible for standard admissions may be considered for alternative admission. In addition to reviewing a student's GPA and test scores, a university may consider other factors in the review of the student’s application for admission."

FAMU has seen an increase in its percentage of First-Time-In-College (FTIC) profile admits as a result of a recent change to the SUS minimum admissions requirements. Back in 2006, a new Florida law raised the mathematics requirement for FTIC freshmen from three units at Algebra I or higher to four units at Algebra I or higher.

FAMU's profile admit rate in 2010-2011 was 51 percent. But even despite that fact, its six-year graduation rate was only 2 percentage points lower that of FAU and FIU. Both FAU and FIU had six-year graduation rates of 41 percent in 2010-2011. FAU's profile admit rate was one percent that academic year and FIU’s was 0.7 percent (In the SUS Work Plan links, the graduation rates are available in the tables entitled "Operational Efficiency" under the heading "Key Performance Indicators." For profile admit rates, check the tables entitled "Planned Growth by Student Type" under the heading "Enrollment Planning").

FAMU students poorer; work more hours to pay for school
Both FAU and FIU also had a much smaller number of Pell Grant recipients than FAMU in 2010-2011. The 2010-2011 Pell Grant rates were as follows: FAMU (67.1 percent), FAU (38.4 percent), and FIU (50 percent).  This also suggests that FAMU students might be working more hours to pay for college and living expenses than students at other SUS schools.

The numbers show that FAMU’s high number of profile admits and students who require need-based financial aid have not stopped it from graduating its students at nearly the same pace as FAU and FIU. If profile admits were really the biggest factor preventing FAMU from having a higher six-year graduation rate, then its current six-year graduation rate wouldn't be anywhere close to that of FAU and FIU, two universities that take in very few profile admits.

The main problem that has held back FAMU’s six-year graduation rate is that the university’s students typically reduce their course loads as the cost of college goes up. But FAMU is addressing that problem with a large variety of steps that have helped reduce the cost of college. FAMU’s lower division students (freshman and sophomores) have actually topped their peers at the University of Florida in average course loads for the past three years.

The good news in the area of student course loads shows that FAMU is on its way to a higher six-year graduation rate. But don’t expect to read about that in the Orlando Sentinel.

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