FAMU on the hot-seat over low graduation rates and student loan debt
Florida A&M University has the lowest graduation rate out of all the state’s public universities. And the board that oversees those universities is not pleased.
Florida A&M is one of many schools seeking a tuition increase, but it was also the only school to run into strong opposition to its request. That opposition is largely due to FAMU’s six-year graduation rate, which stands at 39-percent. Part of the problem is that the school has been admitting students who otherwise aren’t academically ready to attend a university.
“Why aren’t you directing them to community and state colleges to get them prepared to go to FAMU?” Said Board Of Governors Member Norman Tripp to FAMU President James Ammons during the board's meeting Wednesday.
Those students are called profile admits, and Tripp told Ammons that accepting those students sets the school up for failure. But Ammons defended the university’s decisions.
“We’re finding as we look at the data that yes, it takes some of them longer to complete their degree than they would if they were fully admissible. But at the end of the day, FAMU has a mission where we allow students who have the potential to come to the university and have the experience of a four-year college,” he said.
Board members also took issue with the average FAMU student graduating with about $30,000 in student loan debt. Unlike students at Florida State or the University of Florida—who’s tuition is mostly paid for through the state’s Bright Futures Scholarship program and who have much higher family incomes, many FAMU students rely on student loans. The average family income of a FAMU student is in the mid 30’s.
“It may be more to this. Because when we look at the chart, although the numbers are double what we have everywhere else, the income levels are also much lower. So I think an analysis would help the board understand this so that we aren’t passing judgment on issues that sometimes, are out of your control,” said board member Ava Parker , who wants the university to take a closer look at its numbers.
Not all board members were satisfied with the answers FAMU officials gave. While many of the university’s hallmark programs like Pharmacy and Nursing beat national averages when it comes to licensure exams, others, like its college of law, which has a 64-percent passage rate for first-time test takers on the bar—come up short.
“I will admit that you have a tough mission. You don’t have an easy mission,” board member John Rood told FAMU officials. “But if you focus on what’s critical and re-arrange your priorities, you can start seeing some better achievement in that group.”
Rood says he wants the university to begin seriously considering whether to let some programs go.
The board wants FAMU to come back in September with new plans for raising its graduation rate and lowering student debt. FAMU is one of six public universities whose graduation rate is below fifty-percent. Florida International University has a 41-percent graduation rate, and Florida Atlantic is at 41.1-percent. But with only 39-percent of students graduating in six years, FAMU is still the lowest in the state university system. The board will take up its tuition increase request Thursday.
The University of North Florida has a 48.7 percent six-year graduation rate.
The University of West Florida is at 46.3-percent.
The University of South Florida was also heavily criticized for its 51.1-percent graduation rate.