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Robert Trigaux

Florida university system's still way behind but USF's graduation rate in sore need of improvement




How about a bit less bull and a bit higher graduation rate for USF students?

Wake up and good morning. If Florida really wants to bump up to the next level of the economy, it needs to raise the bar on its state university system. That's nothing university leaders don't already know. But execution? We've got a long way to go.

The latest reminder comes in the new annual U.S. News & World Report ranking of universities and colleges. The short version of the ranking shows the University of Florida, as usual, topping the national rankings at No. 54. Hopefully, UF can climb that ladder and break into the top 50, and some day the top 25.

The connection between quality state universities and quality businesses is well documented (consider Stanford University and Silicon Valley). Improve the state university system and send a message that Florida takes advanced learning and global competition seriously. Ultimately, Florida should be known more for top notch academics and research and perhaps a little less for its football frenzy.

After UF, the U.S News standings for the major universities are this: Florida State University lands at No. 97; Tampa's University of South Florida is at No. 170 and Orlando's University of Central Florida is at No. 174.

One of USF's Achilles heels is this ranking is its abysmally low rate 6-year graduation rate. That's the percentage of an entering class that graduates in six years. USF's is a pathetic 52 percent. UCF's is 63 percent, while leader UF's is 84 percent and FSU is 74 percent.

For the sake of comparison, top ranked state university UCLA in California (No. 24) has a 90 percent grad rate after six years. The University of Virginia, also ranked No. 24, has an even more impressive graduation rate: 94 percent after six years. The national average is 63 percent.

USF realizes it's not remotely competitive on its 6-year graduation rate. What's alarming is that low graduation rate has not changed much in the past five years. (USF's 4-year graduation rate for first-time-in-college students is a troubling 34 percent.) Read more in this Tampa Bay Times story.

The topic arose again this month when Paul Dosal, with the telling USF title of "vice president of student success," acknowledging the university did not compare well. Ralph Wilcox, USF executive vice president and provost told a board of trustees meeting that "We have to do better," according to this Tampa Tribune story

Bottom line? It's difficult to keep calling USF an economic engine of Tampa Bay when nearly half of its students fail to graduate after six years. Other universities in Florida are way ahead of USF in this critical category. Come on folks (and that includes our so-called political leaders in Tallahassee), we can do better than this.

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, Tampa Bay Times

[Last modified: Wednesday, September 12, 2012 7:47am]


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