It has been a little over a year since Dr. Martha Saunders took over as President of The University of West Florida. She sat down WUWF's Bob Barrett to talk about that first year and her vision for the future of the university. One of the issues Dr. Saunders had to deal with was the state of Florida's Performance Based Funding metrics for all state universities.
- Back in 2014 UWF last among Florida universities according to the metrics and it cost the school some state funding. This past year, Dr. Saunders said UWF "Knocked it out of the park. We were in the top three in the state. And remember we are [compared] to all of the state universities, the big ones, the small ones, the old ones, the young ones. And to rank in the top three in performance based funding was pretty thrilling but not surprising because we'd been working toward that. When this all started and we realized that Performance Based Funding and those metrics were going to be part of our reality forever, we felt like it was worth the time to really take a look at our processes, take a look at the way we manage data, take a look at the way we do everything, and retool toward that end. So it took us a couple of years to get it right, to get the data right, to get everybody focused. And it paid off.
- Dr. Saunders says the step they took to move up so high in the metrics are sustainable. "Looking forward I expect to stay highly ranked. I can't control what the other schools do, but I do know that we are hitting on all cylinders and we're doing all the right things, and I expect good thing as far as the metrics go."
- One of the measures the university put in place to help in the metrics was increasing student support. "A lot of the weight (in the metrics) is on whether students are retained, whether they graduate, whether they get jobs after they graduate, how much they make [in those jobs]. So it was really clear to us [that] we really needed to take a look at our retention efforts. That included an overhaul of advising. We created an entire entity that we called 'University College' just to support those aspects of student life outside the classroom that support them academically. University College has actually already outgrown its name. We will soon be announcing that we are now calling it the Division of Academic Engagement."
- Other retention efforts included financial aid for students so they could continue at the university. "So every single thing we do that supports a student, we took another look at. Some we refined, some we enhanced. We did a lot of investment in software. We felt like while we certainly could always use more advisors, we needed more effective advising. And that included being able to enable our advisors to record their advising sessions so that we can track how a student is doing. We are [also] doing a lot more work on early warning. The faculty have been great, we have a 95 percent participation [rate], that tells a student early on that they are in trouble in (a particular) class, and tell their advisor early on that the student's in trouble, while we can still make a difference."
- According to the metrics, retention and graduation rates were UWF's greatest challenge and that has been the school's biggest push for improvement. "So many of our students have been transient. Part of that is because when you have almost 25 percent military affiliated students that's a transient population." Saunders said when the state Board of Governors went to the Performance Based Funding metrics, UWF had to really buckle down and put a concerted effort into these issues. "Quality education has always been a top priority [at UWF], but actually making sure students finish in a timely way is an equal high priority."