FIU and its students are climbing the ladder of success — I promise

FIU’s sprawling Southwest Miami-Dade campus.
FIU’s sprawling Southwest Miami-Dade campus. FIU

Earlier this month, the FIU Board of Trustees held its last meeting of the academic year, where we approved the university’s $1.3 billion budget and work plan for 2016-17.

As Miami’s only public research university, FIU has charted a course that honors its responsibility to serve local residents and, as members of this community, my fellow FIU trustees and I want to share our vision for the future of this university under the leadership of President Mark B. Rosenberg.

Since taking the reins of FIU in the fall of 2009, Rosenberg has pursued a strategy of controlled growth and improvement that has yielded excellent overall results, especially in two key areas by which universities are judged: research and student success.

Earlier this year, FIU made it into the top category of research universities in the nation — R:1 Doctoral Universities, with more than $165 million of research funding a year and high production of Ph.D.s, just two of the key elements of being an R:1 university.

This fall we will welcome a freshman class with the highest average high school GPA in FIU history — 3.9. We have found that GPA is the best predictor of success and timely graduation. That is why in the last few years, while adding about 2,000 students a year, we have prioritized GPA over standardized test scores in the freshman admission process. Even then, average SAT scores have remained above 1120, which is higher than they were 10 years ago.

We are not leaving these bright young people to their own devices. FIU has developed programs that have become national models of how we help first-generation students succeed. And they are graduating at rates never before seen at FIU: The six-year graduation rate is at 58 percent, up from 42 percent 10 years ago, and climbing. In the last three years the graduation rate has become important to the funding model adopted by the Florida Board of Governors, which governs state universities.

Universities are now being funded according to a score card that evaluates graduation rates, rate of employment and how much students earn during the first year after college, the number of graduate degrees awarded in areas of strategic emphasis and the number of degrees awarded to minorities, among other measures. FIU has done very well in most of these measures, always scoring in the top half among Florida’s 12 public universities.

Just in the last few years, universities in Florida have become much more accountable to the public. We welcome accountability because these areas of interest in Tallahassee are consistent with our aggressive, board-approved “FIUBeyondPossible2020” strategic plan and with the needs of our community.

We appreciate the support our elected officials have shown for FIU in particular and their focus on higher education, which is essential to our future.

Education is the key to success in the 21st-century economy, and FIU is working to make sure that anyone in our community who has the desire and the preparation to pursue a college education has the opportunity to do so right in our community.

And we want to keep our talent here in South Florida. That is why we are so proud that the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine just graduated its fourth class, and College of Law graduates continue to set the standard for bar-exam passage rate in the state.

FIU is also a great place to work for our 12,000 employees. This year, Forbes magazine ranked FIU the second-best employer in Florida after Publix.

Success such as this inspires us to continue working to fulfill Miami-Dade voters’ will to expand FIU to public land currently occupied by the Fair. This is why we inaugurated FIU in DC, a collaborative solutions center in Washington, D.C., and launched StartUp FIU, an initiative to nurture a culture of entrepreneurship and economic development in our community.

It is a pleasure and an honor for us to serve on FIU’s Board of Trustees. Together we have charted a course that will help make FIU one of the great universities of this nation, building on our success as an agent of change that transforms lives, gives hope to South Florida families and lifts our entire community. We are counting on the energy and the talent of our students, faculty, staff, alumni, elected officials and this community to help us reach higher.

Claudia Puig is chairperson of FIU’s Board of Trustees.