For its work eliminating the completion gap between Latino and white students, the University of South Florida has been named the nation's top-performing public university for Latino student success.
It's another feather in the cap of the Tampa institution, which has used data tools and a case management system to boost its graduation and retention rates.
Notably, Latino students at USF were already performing on par to white students when USF began its big data push in 2009, said Paul Dosal, vice president for student success & student affairs.
The key was making sure that those students didn't slip as USF's push for better metrics began to mount.
Now, 66.2 percent of USF's Latino students graduate in six years, compared to the national rate of 53.6 percent. USF says new data shows that the school's rate is poised to climb even higher, to 71 percent, with the 2011 cohort of Latino students.
Dosal said USF's main effort has been to emphasize that every single student can and will make it.
"Just over half of Latino students across the country will graduate in six years," Dosal said. "We can show that those Latino students can succeed at much higher rates. Create a culture and belief that they can do it."
Back in 2009, when just 47 percent of all USF students graduated in six years, the university decided to harness data analytics to pinpoint struggling students before they veered too far off track. The university also revised its approach in other areas, such as advising and financial aid.
"We wanted to lift all students at the same time, believing in a related principle that is every student will succeed when given the opportunity," Dosal said.
Latino students aren't a monolith but sometimes present different challenges. They may come from poorer areas, where high schools have fewer resources. They're more likely than other students to be the first in their family to attend college, and to have learned English as a second language.
"Once the playing field is level, then they succeed at rates similar to or higher than white students," Dosal said.
The report, which said USF places fourth in the nation overall for its work with Latino students, comes from non-profit advocacy group The Education Trust.
The group evaluated bachelor's degree-seeking students at 613 public and non-profit private colleges and universities across the U.S. Earlier this year, the organization also ranked USF as one of its top performers in black student success for a similar erasure of the completion gap.
The national graduation rate for Latino students has been climbing, too. In 2002, just 46 percent of Latino students graduated in six years, compared to 58 percent of white students.
"They're all going to make it, 100 percent," Dosal said. "We're not there yet, but boy, we're working on it."