I am compelled to respond to The Oracle’s recently published commentary suggesting “USF’s climb in college rankings is nothing to celebrate.” As vice president for Student Success, I would be concerned if the rankings indicated that USF’s rapid ascent in the rankings had left “minority students in the dust.” Fortunately, the record shows that this is not the case.
Even as USF’s trajectory continues to rise in U.S. News and World Report and other prestigious rankings, our socioeconomic, racial, ethnic and global diversity continues to grow. The USF Tampa campus is leading all USF campuses and all of Florida’s preeminent universities by a sizable margin.
Consistent with USF’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, our fall 2019 freshman class shows a 33 percent increase in black student enrollment from last year, while Asian student enrollment has grown by nearly 23 percent, and Hispanic student enrollment is up more than 14 percent.
Regular readers of The Oracle know that USF has eliminated the achievement gap among black, Hispanic, and white students, as The Education Trust has identified USF as No. 1 in the state and No. 6 in the nation among public universities for black student success, and No. 1 public university in the country for Latino Student Success.
Also, Third Way has identified USF as No. 1 in Florida and No. 9 in the nation for Pell Grant student success. Today, USF is a national leader for equity in access and success, and is a regularly sought-after mentor for other institutions.
The assertion that college rankings are a signifier of “unearned privilege” rather than an objective measure of educational quality also fails to recognize that USF’s upward trajectory in U.S. News and World Report rankings over the past 10 years can, in large part, be attributed to our students’ hard work in graduating at higher rates.
From 2008 to 2018, the six-year graduation rate of USF students soared from 48 percent to 73 percent, the highest gain of any university in the U.S. Furthermore, black and Hispanic students graduated at rates equal to or higher than white students during that time.
Similarly, limited-income students (Pell Grant recipients) graduated at rates virtually identical to higher-income students. USF is one of only a handful of universities in the country that has eliminated the achievement gap by race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status.
As the writer points out, many of the private and public universities that get “admitted” to these rankings have historically served “the children of the wealthy.” Yet USF’s story is quite different. At “America’s Fastest-Rising University,” one in four students is first in their family to
attend college and 41 percent receive Pell Grants. Perhaps this is why U.S. News and World Report also recognized USF as the No. 1 public university in Florida and No. 9 in the nation for “Social Mobility”?
The USF community is proud to be graduating more diverse students, on time, with diminishing debt, who are advancing to the most competitive graduate and professional schools in the nation and are prepared to successfully compete in today’s global workforce – all without compromising our core values. That is the real cause for celebration.
Paul Dosal is the vice president for Student Success at the University of South Florida.