University of Central Florida Uses Innovation to Serve Students

Gates Foundation recognizes UCF’s culture of improvement

Central Florida
DiImage: iStock/Steve Debenport

BE Smart, the education-focused initiative of Black Enterprise, is a grantee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a nonprofit that’s doing important work in the areas of health and education.

Allan Golston, president of the Gates Foundation’s U.S. program, recently wrote about the innovative work of the University of Central Florida. Using data to understand where students were getting stuck in their path toward graduation, UCF now makes use of online classes to allow students greater flexibility. It also provides faculty members with training in online course design, and they are paired with instructional designers so they learn how to maximize the platform.

UCF is educating a more diverse student body yet managing to keep its tuition affordable. Its graduation rate of 70% is higher than the national average.

The Gates Foundation supports the work of University Innovation Alliance, a consortium of 11 schools of which UCF is one.

Here’s more on the exciting work at UCF that Golston writes about:

“A lot of big schools, they act like you’re just lucky to be there and they don’t really care if you graduate or not. Here, they really do care what happens to you. They set things up to help you be successful.”

That’s how senior and first-generation college student Alex deCurnou described his experience at the University of Central Florida. Alex is among the students, faculty, and administrators whom I met with during a visit to UCF last month. I was there to see and hear first-hand how UCF grew into one of the most innovative schools in the country.

Over the past 20 years, UCF has expanded to serve more than 64,000 students and is now one of the largest universities in the country. Digital learning has been a key driver of UCF’s growth and the university has expanded while simultaneously serving an increasingly diverse undergraduate population, keeping tuition affordable, and increasing graduation rates.

At a time when the United States is on track to produce 11 million fewer postsecondary credentials by 2025 than the economy will demand, UCF is building a success story that could be a blueprint for many other universities across the nation.

So how did UCF do it? During my visit, I was impressed by three elements of the university’s culture and approach that students, faculty, and administrators believe have been critical to UCF’s success.

Putting student needs and success at the center of decision-making
This story started when university leaders looked at the data. The numbers showed that too many UCF students were struggling to obtain the last credits needed for graduation. UCF President John C. Hitt, interested in addressing this bottleneck and also finding ways to increase access for students, prioritized online instruction to give students more flexibility and to open more paths to graduation.

To read more, go to Huffington Post.



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