Graduation Rate: SFCC is Number One in Florida
It was a very pleasant surprise! According to the Chronicle of Higher Education in a recent report, SFCC ranks number one in the state of Florida in at least one important measure of excellence, the graduation rate of our students. We also learned that the 28 community colleges of the Florida College System rank third nationally, behind only North and South Dakota, in this measure. We’ve always felt our system was good, and this is certainly confirmation.
For several years, we’ve been monitoring 16 different core indicators of institutional effectiveness including student satisfaction, graduation rates, persistence, success in subsequent courses, and many others that tell us how well we are serving our students and our communities. We knew that our college compares favorably in many national benchmark studies. Last year, the Aspen Institute looked at these numbers and drew the conclusion that SFCC was among the top 10 percent of all community colleges nationwide, making us eligible for the prestigious Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.
The Chronicle report considered two-year and three-year graduation rates and SFCC students ranked first in Florida in both. Obviously, we were delighted to see this report, but also curious. What are we doing that helps our students be so successful? What are the factors causing this high ranking? Over the years, I’ve developed a healthy skepticism about statistical reports in the media, for good reason, so I have done some digging and this is what I’ve concluded.
- We have talented and excellent faculty and student support staff who care about our students and work with each of them to ensure their success.
- Of all the colleges in our system, we have the highest percentage of college-bound high school graduates who enroll at our college. It is typically about 80 percent. This means we get a disproportionally higher percentage of well-prepared students attending our college instead of going directly to another public or private university. Students who are better prepared for college are much more likely to graduate.
- Likewise, we have one of the highest percentages of high school dual enrolled students of all the colleges in our system. These are usually among the better prepared high school students, and they come to us with a significant number of college credits, making it more likely they will graduate within two or three years.
- Our college has a higher proportion of full-time students and a lower proportion of part-time students than many of the other colleges in our system. Full-time students are much more likely to graduate in two or three years. It is almost impossible for part-time students to complete their programs of study in that limited time unless they come to us with significant dual enrollment credits, and many do.
- We have relatively small class sizes, among the smallest on average in our system. Small classes allow our students to become more engaged with their professors and also with each other. We know from research this improves persistence and ultimately graduation rates.
- There is a silver lining to one of the demographic characteristics in our college district that gives us concerns. Not enough of our high school graduates go to college immediately after graduating from high school. The state average is about 68 percent. In the SFCC district it is only just over half. We wish more high school students coming out of our high schools appreciated the importance of continuing their education. On the other hand, this might contribute in an ironic way to our relatively high graduation rates. We’re serving a cohort of high school graduates that are better prepared for college on average than those who chose not to go to college. Again, the better prepared, the more likely the student is to graduate in two or three years.
- Of course, we should give credit to the schools in our district as well. Our students wouldn’t be graduating from our college at the highest rate in the state of Florida if they were not relatively well prepared for college when they finished one of our local high schools.
I’m sure there are other interpretations of the information in the Chronicle report. I encourage everyone to check this link to the full interactive report and offer your comments. Regardless of the explanations behind the results, we can be proud of the difference we are making in the lives of our students.