Greetings Owl Nation!
The Class of 2020 settled into their new on-campus digs over the last few days and will enjoy a pretty impressive schedule for Weeks of Welcome including a concert at Mizner Park, Women’s soccer match in FAU stadium (they won!), Canoeing Trip, Pool Party and a Roller Rave in the Rec Center. Program Board is doing a school spirit event called “Bluesdays” on Tuesdays, a great title that I hope can develop into something more than giving out t-shirts if that’s all it is. WOW culminates in tailgating for this season’s first home football game vs Southern Illinois on September 3rd, plus at halftime the 2016 Homecoming theme will be revealed. More on Homecoming (and how to improve it) in a future entry.
But that’s not what I really wanted to talk to you about today.
I don’t think it’s trending much on Facebook yet so unless you follow the FAU News twitter (through FAU) or stalk the #FAU hashtag on the regular (as a handful of us do) you may have missed this cool tidbit about the average GPA of first time in college (FTIC) students (aka true freshmen) for the incoming class:
Florida Atlantic University’s incoming freshman class boasts the highest GPA in the university’s history. For the fall semester, the average high school GPA for first-time-in-college (FTIC) students is a 3.96, up from a 3.82 last fall.
“FAU has increased its admissions standards, and this number reflects that,” said FAU Provost Gary W. Perry. “We are committed to attracting high-achieving students, and we will continue to improve FAU’s academic reputation.”
FAU received more than 20,500 freshman applications and more than 8,300 transfer applications for fall.
To expand on that a little bit, according to FAU’s freshmen admissions requirements site, the incoming FALL FTIC GPA range was 3.74-4.37. Wow. If you didn’t quite get there, my understanding is that students were directed to apply for Summer admission where the GPA range is 3.42-3.9.
A question was raised on the forum from walty12 about how this stacks up historically and here’s what I could gather from the IEA website over the last 3 university Presidents tenure, with some significant events listed on the side:
(Semester) - (# of freshmen applications) - (average GPA)
Fall 2016 - 20,500 - 3.96 *** students required to have 3.6 GPA
Fall 2015 - 15,847 - 3.82 *** FAU praised for high performance, students required to have 3.3 GPA
Fall 2014 - 18,977 - 3.73 *** President John Kelly started March 2014, FAU dinged for poor performance, students required to have 3.0 GPA
Fall 2013 - 26,409 - 3.5
Fall 2012 - 27,888 - 3.5
Fall 2011 - 28,197 - 3.4 *** FAU football stadium opens; Innovation Village Apartments open
Fall 2010 - 14,436 - 3.3 *** President Mary Jane Saunders starts March 2010
Fall 2009 - 14,532 - 3.4 *** President Brogan leaves in late 2009
Fall 2008 - 13,150 - 3.0
Fall 2007 - 11,822 - 3.2
Fall 2006 - 9,754 - 3.3
Fall 2005 - 10,363 - 3.4
Fall 2004 - 9,198 - 3.4
Fall 2003 - 7,898 - 3.4 *** President Brogan begins work at FAU
(There are undoubtedly “behind the scenes” things and fluctuations in the economy that I don’t mention as “significant events” even though they played a part. I tried to hit the major points that were well-known)
So here's some surface level observations about this…
Throughout the course of Brogan's 6 year tenure, the average FTIC GPA dropped steadily from 3.4 to 3.0, then rebounded to 3.4 right before he left. However, applications roughly doubled from the year he started until he resigned.
Under Saunders - who again was hired because she was an academic and could shore up that side of the house - we jumped roughly from a 3.4 to a 3.7. Can't say she didn't make strides there. Applications again doubled, this time in a single year, because of the football stadium (remember that when the detractors say the stadium was a waste). Applications hovered in the 26-28k until her final, to be blunt, disastrous year when all those scandals and poor PR responses could be blamed for the nearly 8k drop-off.
Enter President Kelly, who in two years has raised the GPA by ~.1 per year, from 3.7 to 3.96. If he continues this way, it's certainly reasonable to think we could surpass the much-coveted 4.0 GPA watermark.
By comparison, as best as I can find, UF has an average GPA of 4.35 for its FTIC; my understanding is that they’ve hovered around that number, between 4.1 to 4.3, in recent years. I don't know if FAU could go up that high into the 4.3 territory but it's at least nice to see we've closed the gap. Maybe our ceiling is ~4.1, though I hate to say we couldn’t climb too much higher when 10 years ago we were averaging a 3.3 and thinking our ceiling was a 3.5 or 3.6 BECAUSE places like UF and FSU existed, not to mention University of Miami or nationwide public Ivies and the actual Ivies.
As a side note, you may have grown up in a time when 4.0 was the top GPA one could achieve and wondering what the deal is with GPAs like 4.35. Well, with the advent of something called a “weighted GPA” which gives extra “weight” to Honors/IB/AP courses, the scale can actually go up to 5.0 (in Denver, a 5.2). This creates a bit of a ruckus about inflated GPAs and with Florida’s public education system, you can’t be surprised if some of that’s going on. The fortunate thing, if you haven’t been exposed to the college admissions process in awhile, is that most people still believe a 4.0 is the top GPA so people will hear that FAU has a 3.96 average GPA and think, “Wow, that’s crazy!”
Ignorance is bliss, y’all.
Now, much has been written about the changes to admissions policies at FAU and about being more selective. A large part of that reason was of course FAU losing $7M in funding because of poor 4 year graduation rates, despite a handful of articles (New York Times Forbes, TIME, Washington Post), noting national trends where students are taking an average of five years (with six not being uncommon) to complete college instead of four for a variety of reasons including millennials taking their time to avoid debt. Essentially we got dinged for something that’s a national trend, but okay. We righted the ship enough to get money back – you may have read recently that we were tied for No.1 in the state with UCF - plus we got shiny new high GPAs to brag about.
Some will try to temper those flames with rumors that FAU is attracting students who would have traditionally gone to places like UF yet they’re using us as a stepping stone to get ultimately end up at UF anyway and transfer after the first year or two.
According to our Common Data Set for 2015-2016, 77.5% of freshmen who entered in Fall 2014 were enrolled at FAU in Fall 2015, though that doesn’t automatically mean that 22.5% transferred. The university looks at these in terms of 6 year cohorts, so we wouldn’t know until 2020 if our freshmen class of 2014 with the 3.73 GPA suddenly got flightier than previous classes. What I did find now is that this April 2014 report by the FAU Admission & Retention Committee shows between 6.6-7.3% of entering freshmen since 2002 have gone on to graduate at other state university system institutions yet the transfer rate is even lower, between 2.1-3.0%.
The greatest result of our classes, even if it’s low compared to other institutions in the state, is that students graduate here at FAU. The next biggest reason? They just leave. Who knows why. Maybe they’re tired of college. Maybe they have a child or a sick parent to take care of. I’m not sure how in depth this office goes to collect this information but in a sense it doesn’t matter. They didn’t stay.
So obviously we want to continue to attract these students, to attract even better students, and to retain them after they get here. How do we do that? Well, plenty of options. For instance, I expect FAU will consider bragging about this 3.96 GPA on a billboard facing the major highways now; after all, they did with the “No.1 in Florida” thing (which I whole-heartedly approve of, don’t get me wrong).
And that’s important because we’re still fighting against this notion that FAU is not a good school and you’re only rehabbing your academic reputation to transfer out (which is only true for 2-3% of students according to our data, as noted above) or because you’re geographically-bound. We need to put out there, often and loudly, that FAU is a very respectable academic institution to send your kids to… even if we have to play it up a little bit. Impressionable parents and potential students drive those highways every day.
We need to paint a positive image on social media or the experience here as well as our academic accomplishments, including that in the Research Park. Our ranked programs. Our medical school. Our Honors College. And yes, even our football team (when they start winning again).
It gets harder (aka more expensive) from there. We still need to address Greek Housing, our Student Union, our athletic facilities. Build our alumni network, improve Homecoming.
Off-campus we need to develop 20th Street, create affordable housing for current students and alumni. We need to expand public transportation in and around campus. We need to make the overall city better for young people, create more entertainment and nightlife options, to create a place where students not only want to come for 4 years, but settle here afterwards. The university community needs to become way more active in local politics, be present at City Council meetings, and guide the conversation of where Boca Raton is going in the future. Take ownership of the school, take pride in the city, and everything will improve. Gainesville didn’t become “G-ville” by having all the UF community operate unilaterally to the local government; rather, they wove themselves into the fabric of the community. We have influence, we have consumers, we have the college graduates and professionals they want to populate their community. We just need to capitalize on it.
Imagine what our average GPA could be if we did that…