By: Shayna Cohen
Students in American colleges and universities that identify as first-generation, minority, and/or low-income are at a higher risk to drop-out of college. The consequences of higher drop rates include lost consumer spending and savings, increases in the national debt, and a less-educated workforce. Students who graduate from college tend to earn more during their lifetime than their high school educated peers. Colleges and universities have invested in resources to reduce drop-out rates and increase student retention. Florida State University’s (FSU) Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement (CARE) is a highly successful example of a program designed to tackle these issues.
CARE was formally established in January of 2000 to address high drop-out rates and low retention rates by combining several different existing campus organizations and programs. The CARE program’s mission is to “contribute to the successful retention and graduation of undergraduate students who have been disadvantaged by economic or educational circumstances.”
The CARE program assists Florida native first-generation college students that exemplify a passion to continue their education alongside resilience to overcome unprivileged circumstances at home. The program selects students who demonstrate academic excellence to ensure they are prepared to be successful at Florida State University. Out of the 417 students admitted into the CARE class of 2017, the average accepted GPA ranged from a 3.5 to 4.2 (on a 5.0 point scale).
The university devoted a facility, the Thagard Building, to serve as a community space for all CARE students. In addition to providing niche nooks for studying and gathering, the building is home to the CARE Computer Lab which houses close to 50 desktop and laptop computers. The building is in constant use and utilized to complete anything from CARE requirements to one-on-one counseling with an advisor. First-year CARE students are required to log ten hours a week of studying, often completed in the CARE Computer Lab .Other resources include tutors, study room reservations, and life coaches.
CARE students begin their college endeavor with a seven-week Summer Bridge Program from mid-June to early August. During this time, CARE students live together amongst peers, are assigned mentors, take up to seven credit hours of coursework, and adjust to attending Florida State University. The CARE program tries to alleviate the economic barriers that may prevent some students from enjoying and taking full advantage of a summer program invested in their success by covering meal costs, tuition, and housing during the summer term. After completing the Summer Bridge Program, CARE students are welcomed and remain connected to the workshops, resources, and support for the remainder of their college career.
The results of FSU’s program are not hard to identify. Florida State University has one of the best freshman retention rates in the country at 94 percent, with a 99 percent rate for CARE students. Students admitted to the CARE program come from a diverse racial and ethnic background, with 60 percent Black or African American, 20 percent Hispanic/Latino/Spanish, and the remaining 20 percent White or from a diversity of racial backgrounds. In a 2017 study for the Education Trust, FSU was recognized as a top-performing institution for Black students, graduating 74.5 percent, many of whom benefited from the CARE program.
Members of the CARE community have set a trend to thrive outside of the classroom as well. Students have become Fulbright Award Recipients and Rhodes Scholars, Student Body Presidents, research assistants, FSU Homecoming Chiefs, and many other on-campus leadership figures. Natalie, a Fall 2018 CARE graduate who received a B.S. in Actuarial Science, commented, “Without CARE, I don’t think I would have even made it through college. The program made it so easy for me to excel in my classes as well as afford my great education at FSU.”
FSU’s CARE program exemplifies how universities and colleges can successfully support first-generation students by actively investing in their future. The community-based approach and vital resources CARE provides for its students have served as a means to actively change these student’s graduation trajectory and future earning potential.