A new scholarship being offered to seniors this summer to improve graduation rates could push USF closer to achieving pre-eminence.
Specifically, it’s being offered to students who started in summer or fall of 2013, which directly impacts USF’s four-year graduation rate for pre-eminence this year.
The scholarship is geared toward students who plan to complete their final 12 credit hours over summer, and it covers all tuition and fees while also ensuring access to required texts.
“We certainly believe we are on the path to pre-eminence,” Paul Dosal, vice president of Student Affairs and Student Success, said. “My role is to promote student success. I’ve been promoting this for seven years anyway. We’re on the path, to me it’s just a question of when.”
USF was hoping to meet the state’s pre-eminence requirements this year, but legislative changes recently excluded the university’s eligibility. During this past term, the Florida Legislature looked at changing one of the requirements from a six-year graduation rate at 70 percent to a four-year graduation rate at 50 percent.
USF’s four-year graduation rate is 56 percent.
However, a change on the last day of the session pushed the benchmark up to a four-year graduation rate at 60 percent. The current expected date for USF to reach this benchmark is for the 2020 school year.
Along with the title of pre-eminence, USF would also split a pool of state funding with UF and FSU that was $48 million this year.
Provost Ralph Wilcox said in an interview with The Oracle that the funds from achieving pre-eminence would mostly be going toward hiring more professors.
As it is, the new scholarship is currently only offered to seniors graduating this summer as a pilot program.
“If the pilot system is positive, we’ll certainly look at building financial incentives into our tuition structure. Whatever that looks like,” Dosal said.
According to Dosal, this scholarship is a continuation of programs that encourage students to graduate in four years, such as the Take 15 campaign and Finish in Four, Save More. The difference, he said, is the financial incentive.
To take 12 credit hours costs in-state students $2,534.28 and out-of-state students $6,900.12 in tuition and fees. Dosal said approximately 150 students had registered to receive the scholarship, which also includes long-term textbook check-out from the library.
Students who possibly qualify received an email and phone calls are now being made to get more students registered.
Dosal and university spokesman Adam Freeman said they weren’t sure how many students would need to graduate during summer to achieve a 60 percent graduation rate for this year.
James Wiley, a graduating senior who is receiving the scholarship, said it didn’t encourage him to take more credits over the summer.
“I needed six more credit hours to graduate, and I was already taking two summer classes so it was very convenient for me,” Wiley said.
The students not able to receive the scholarship have mixed opinions about it. While the idea of helping others graduate is generally positive, some were apprehensive by the uncertain future of the project.
“I feel like it’s not fair to me because if I was someone who struggled through college, if I’m struggling to get my tuition paid, and I wasn’t able to have access to this free tuition to get out of college early I would feel like they’re gypping me or showing favoritism to certain students,” Coleman Bahr, a junior majoring in business analytics, said. “I want to have access to the same opportunities that every other student has access to.”
Dosal said this was approached with some concerns and the program won’t necessarily continue. He said he plans to emphasize the pilot nature of this scholarship and hopes to adjust the practices after the results are reviewed.
“Knowing that it was such an attractive program, or at least we thought it was on paper, that some students let’s say who started their career here in 2014 that they might think ‘well, will this be available to me next year?’” Dosal said. “And the answer is ‘not necessarily, we don’t know.’”
As a student currently reaping the benefits of the program, Wiley said the program should continue.
“I kind of wish that things like this could happen more often,” Wiley said. “I feel like when students are getting not only just financial aid but also other types of support — like I’ve had them reach out to me about my books being available in the library — that it really motivates people to get their degree and finish on time.”