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USF, UCF, FIU team to focus on jobs for graduates

They typically are competitors — for the best and brightest minds, for the most skilled athletes, for research dollars.

But now, the University of South Florida, the University of Central Florida and Florida International University are teaming up to address issues unique to urban universities and to boost economic development.

The three schools are forming the Florida Consortium of Metropolitan Research Universities, with goals of increasing the number of degrees in high-demand areas, raising the six-year graduation rate for minority students, increasing the number of graduates employed in Florida and raising the salaries those graduates earn.

“It is a very different approach,” said Paul Dosal, USF’s vice provost for student success. “In the end, we recognize the value in what we might call enlightened self-interest. If we work together, we can achieve even greater things.”

The three universities — USF in Tampa, UCF in Orlando and FIU in Miami — account for 47 percent of total enrollment in the state university system. There are nine other public state universities. The three claim 54 percent of the state system’s undergraduate minority enrollment.

“The collaboration is really being driven by our common goals and interests,” said Maribeth Ehasz, head of the Division of Student Development and Enrollment Services at UCF. “When we looked at how we impact the state, we felt we could advance the success of our students if we work together.”

The consortium is asking for $12 million from the Florida Legislature to fund predictive analytics, use the data to find students who may be at risk of not completing their degrees and intervene; monitor students’ progression to degree completion; offer targeted support such as coaching, mentoring and enhanced advising; and increase internships and work experiences in the three cities.

The group’s commitment is to increase the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded at the three schools by 3,660, or 12 percent; increase the six-year graduation rate for first-time-in-college minority students by 4 percent, to 67 percent; increase the number of graduates employed or continuing their education in Florida by 3 percentage points to 79 percent; and increase the salaries the three schools’ graduates earn in the workplace by 10 percent to an average of $39,072.

The latter three of those performance metrics are used by the state university system Board of Governors to judge schools’ success — and to award extra cash.

They have the added effect of boosting the state’s economy. The consortium said its outcomes would increase the number of graduates in high-demand areas, increase the number of underrepresented and limited-income students graduating with the skills and credentials required by Florida employers, and emphasize career readiness.

“We recognize that because we serve so many students — nearly 50 percent of the state’s students — and we are in the three biggest, most important economic engines of the state, if we do our job and meet our goals, we’re going to drive the economy,” said USF’s Dosal. “And we’re going to do a better job of tying undergraduate education to the economic needs of the state.”

Already the consortium has established the prototype of a portal that will identify and share information on technology internships available in each urban area. It also is collaborating to increase the supply of accounting graduates.

Both of those fields are in high demand in Florida.

The three universities already have committed more than $1 million to the partnership. The Helios Education Foundation, meanwhile, has donated $25,000 and has committed $500,000 over five years to support the consortium’s programs and infrastructure.

“We saw this as a really unique partnership opportunity, one that we have not been able to find anywhere else in the country, where three universities of this stature have come together,” said Helios President and Chief Executive Officer Paul Luna. “It’s a model that I think really needs to be shared and championed across the country.”

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