FSU retention plan pays off in diplomas

Published November 21, 2007

The success Florida State University is enjoying with a program that shepherds otherwise disadvantaged students toward diplomas is inspiring. Their rate of graduation is also a poignant reminder that research institutions do serve more than just Ph.Ds.

The program, the Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement, is aimed at students who are the first in their families to ever attend college, and it speaks to what a little structure and direction can produce. The students start in the summer, before most other freshmen, and are bound together through educational and social activities that follow them until they graduate. Study habits are reinforced through mandatory study lab hours each week.

The CARE students don't bring the typical university resume, the one with alumni parents and eyebrow-raising SAT scores. Instead, FSU looks as much at their high school study habits and self-motivation as their GPAs.

Most of these students come from low-income families, and about two-thirds are African-American. One reason the program has caught the attention of other universities is that it has produced a six-year graduation rate for black students of 71 percent, which is a full 30 percentage points ahead of the national average.

Given the extent to which a parent's level of education predicts a child's success, FSU provost Larry Abele also understands the potential impact. "This is a real source of pride to us," Abele told the Times. "If they graduate, their lives are better and their children's lives are better."

This is what educators call breaking the cycle, and each and every degree is worth celebration.