One year ago, I wrote a story for “The Voyager,” detailing the first appearance of the University of West Florida in the annual list of America’s Top Colleges presented by Forbes Magazine.
For the 2011 list, the University was ranked 490th out of 650 institutions of higher education nationally, and 10th out of 21 institutions from the state of Florida.
Last year, Forbes also included a list of the Top 100 Best Buy Colleges, in which UWF ranked 27th nationally, and fifth in the state of Florida.
In an Aug. 3, 2011 press release following the unveiling of the Forbes list, UWF President Judy Bense stated that the goal of UWF is “to provide a first-class education to our students,” and the presence of the institution in the Forbes list “is evidence that we are succeeding.”
While my journalistic integrity restricted me from waxing boastfully about the achievements of my alma mater within the confines of the article, I was extremely proud to document such achievements, and even prouder to be an active participant in its success.
Returning to the present day, the 2012 edition of America’s Top Colleges has been released, and UWF is, once again, a part of the list.
In an Aug. 3 article published in the Pensacola News Journal, Dr. Bense is quoted saying that the appearance of UWF in the 2012 Forbes list shows that UWF is “on the right path and making great strides in comparison with our peers.”
Dr. Bense also states in the article that UWF is “on the rise.”
Is UWF truly “on the rise?”
While it is certainly great to hear such pleasant conjecture from President Bense regarding the growth of our university, based on our rankings in the 2012 Forbes lists, little of the pleasant conjecture makes any semblance of sense.
In the 2012 edition of America’s Top Colleges, UWF is ranked 603rd out of 650 schools in the nation. UWF dropped 113 spots compared to its ranking in 2011.
Of the 21 institutions of higher education from the state of Florida included in the 2012 Forbes list, UWF is ranked 19th. UWF dropped nine spots in comparison to its ranking in 2011.
UWF is not even included in the 2012 list of the Top 100 Best Buy Colleges.
Needless to say, the evidence presented in the 2012 Forbes list supports the antithesis of the statement made by Bense regarding UWF being “on the rise.”
“In Comparison with Our Peers”
When Dr. Bense stated that UWF is “on the right path and making great strides in comparison with our peers,” who exactly are these “peers?”
My best estimation as to the identities of the “peer” institutions is the other public colleges and universities in the state of Florida.
The University of Florida is ranked 80th nationally in the 2012 Forbes list, the highest-ranked institution from the state of Florida. UF possesses a retention rate for full-time, first-to-second-year students of 96 percent, and a 6-year overall graduation rate of 84 percent. Both of these figures trounce the 73 percent retention rate and 47 percent graduation rate of UWF.
If the University of Florida is considered a peer institution and the benchmark for comparison among institutions in the state of Florida, UWF is drastically underperforming based on retention, graduation and a variety of other metrics.
Evidence of Growth
Growth is a process, not a result. There is no doubt that the University of West Florida is a growing institution.
Enrollment has never been higher at UWF, with nearly 13,000 students enrolled this semester, and an established headcount goal of 15,000 enrolled students by 2015.
The UWF Department of Housing and Residence Life recently opened Presidents Hall, a suite-style building which houses 252 residents. UWF now has over 2,000 on-campus residents.
The UWF College of Business will officially open its new Education Center in October of this year. The 36,000-square-foot, multimillion-dollar facility features an assortment of amenities geared towards ensuring the success of the students and faculty working within its walls.
In addition to the recent construction of these new facilities, the university recently issued an updated version of the Campus Master Plan, which details a ten-year plan for increasing enrollment, retention, and brand recognition of the University of West Florida.
The Campus Master Plan describes the path on which UWF will travel in order to achieve the success and notoriety of an institution such as the University of Florida, which has been in operation for nearly 160 years.
UWF has grown considerably since its inception in 1963, and as we approach the half-centennial of our institution, at this moment, we are witnessing a monumental stage in the growth of our university.
Growth does not happen overnight. When we wake up tomorrow morning, those bulldozers and construction machines will still be here, building the experiences of the future generation of UWF students.
The Campus Master Plan is an important cog in the growing process, and when this process has come to fruition, I sincerely hope the result is the success of our university.