Puntos Suspensivos

In 2007, I wrote a short essay in The Hispanic Outlook’s now defunct Punto Final column on access, persistence and success in college in which I suggested that in addition to looking at national data and national efforts to encourage attainment of college degrees, focusing on institutional data and institutional efforts could provide a sharper picture of student needs and a broader vision for addressing those needs. HO’s new feature, In the Trenches, does just that, and I’ve been thrilled to read what colleagues are doing across the nation to level the playing field for our students, providing access and support that translates to increasing rates of degree completion.

At Florida International University (FIU), we have embraced the idea that each student’s persistence until degree completion is everyone’s job, beginning with President Mark B. Rosenberg, who years ago adopted the phrase “Every Student Counts” as a motto. Broadly speaking, this phrase means that as we implement sophisticated student administration systems, enhance curricular offerings, launch new programs, and develop university-wide initiatives, we must not lose sight of the individual student. After all, requirements are completed and degrees are awarded one student at a time, yet all of us participate in significant ways in each student’s journey from admission to graduation.
The literature on student success, our own personal experiences, and students themselves tell us that there are key factors and decision points that influence a student’s persistence until graduation. With faculty, staff, administrator and student participation, we have implemented several initiatives that are beginning to show promising results. Documentation and assessment have been built into each project so we can determine return on investment for each initiative. I will highlight two of these.
Helping students find their way. FIU is an urban public research university with nearly 44,000 students and projected enrollment growth of up to 52,000 by 2015. At large institutions like FIU, students may feel isolated or lost, and they may have difficulty negotiating the bureaucracy. To welcome students and guide them in finding their way at the start of the semester, we implemented the Concierge Enrollment Services program. After much planning, we cross-trained and deployed throughout the cam-pus a cadre of professional staff equipped to assist students with their enrollment and financial aid questions. Concierge staff carried iPads that were linked to our student administration system (PantherSoft), and they were able to research and resolve, on the spot, the problems that students presented. This high-tech, high-touch initiative has been well received by both students and staff. Students have been positively impressed by the expedited services provided by caring, knowledgeable staff. Concomitantly, cross-trained staff members have been empowered to solve problems immediately and experienced satisfaction spending time among students, welcoming them to the FIU family.
Helping transfer students reach the finish line. FIU and Miami Dade College (MDC), two of the nation’s largest Hispanic-Serving Institutions, have a strong partnership with a track record for providing access to higher education to all South Floridians, especially those for whom the possibility of attending college may seem like a dream. For decades, faculty and staff at both institutions have worked together on curricular and administrative matters, meeting regularly, and hatching new approaches to assist the students we have in common to persist in college until graduation.
In 2006, FIU and MDC inaugurated a Dual Degree Program (DDP), enrolling 480 students in its first year. In this program, students who apply to FIU but are not selected for admission are encouraged to enroll at MDC, and are guaranteed admission to FIU if they receive their A.A./A.S. degree at MDC within three years. Advisors at both institutions monitor these students, ensuring that they stay on track and transition successfully from MDC to FIU. Students enrolled in this program participate in Orientation at FIU, receive an FIU ID, and have access to FIU activities and privileges, such as FIU student prices for events and library access.
In 2009, FIU received a Lumina Foundation Minority-Serving Institutions (MSI) Models of Success Grant to study several of FIU’s student success initiatives, including the FIU-MDC Dual Degree Program. While preliminary results in this data-driven study, conducted by both institutions, are positive, we continue to address the barriers that students experience when transferring to a new institution, including navigating separate administrative systems and developing an attachment to the new receiving institution. In accordance with Lumina grant guidelines, final results will be published and shared with other institutions, especially MSIs that may wish to replicate the DDP or some of the other student success initiatives that FIU has implemented.
Despite our efforts, however, challenges remain. Because there is still much more to say and do, and much to learn from what others are doing at their institutions, I think of this particular essay in terms of “Puntos Suspensivos” ... instead of Punto Final.