Posted to: David S. Szymanski, UNF President
Once again UNF scored at the bottom of 11 schools on the Board of Governors (BOG) State University System Performance Metrics and once again the metrics on which UNF scored the lowest included student retention and student graduation rates. UNF’s bottom ranking means the loss of tens of millions of dollars in performance-based funding. Correctly the new president has chosen to embrace the metrics and is working to, among other things, increase student retention and reduce the time it takes students to graduate. However is anyone in the new administration giving thought to the prospect that a major of cause of UNF’s low scores in student retention and graduation rate may be UNF’s decision to increase the percent of students in online courses? Under the metrics, each university is permitted to select one goal to be evaluated on (the others are chosen by the BOG). Under the past administration, UNF selected the percent of undergraduate students in online courses as its chosen goal. However, a growing body of education research documents that student retention rates are much lower in online courses (50-70% lower) and lower retention rates mean longer times to graduation. It should therefore not be surprising to think that UNF’s choice to increase online courses as one of its metrics is having an adverse effect on the metrics of retention and time to graduation. Isn’t it time that UNF reevaluate its choice to increase online courses as a metric goal? While online classes are an increasing part of the educational landscape and technology enhanced teaching should not be avoided, no other Florida school has ever selected online courses as its chosen metric. Although an important decision, the choice by UNF to increase online courses was never a strategic one. According to one high-level administrator involved with the decision, the online course metric was chosen because it was considered “low hanging fruit” that UNF could accomplish quickly to increase its metric standing. The decision was also questionable in the face of UNF’s “high-touch” brand of “no one like you and no place like UNF.” Is anyone in the new administration giving thought to the apparent contradiction of UNF’s choice to increase online courses and the consequences of that choice for student retention rates and time to graduation? Has research been conducted to check if student dropout rates at UNF are higher in online courses like research documents? Has research been conducted to determine if UNF’s low retention rates and longer time to graduation are adversely affected by students taking online courses at UNF?
Response from the Floor by President Szymanski
I do not have an answer to all of these questions; however, we are strategically pursuing answers to these questions through our Institutional Research office.