Growth and Quality:
Tracking Student Numbers At the University of Florida

John V. Lombardi

, September 1998

As the University of Florida has grown in stature and quality, so too has our student population grown as more and more students choose this university as their preferred destination. Growth shows everywhere, from parking problems to the increased depth and breadth of courses supported by larger student populations. As we have grown, the university's faculty and staff have improved our operations to accommodate the greater numbers. Where once we could manage relatively informally, scrambling at the last minute to make things work out, today we plan and manage.

From the day they arrive, we now track our students toward their chosen degree. Tracking helps the student find the best individual path through our complex and rich curriculum and helps the university ensure that required courses will be there when needed. As soon as possible, tracking places academic advising within the student's major department or program. Focused advising gives the student expert advice about courses, careers and alternatives early in their college years. Tracking also makes sure that students do what their major requires so that they move confidently into the upper division at the right time.

With tracking, we use resources better, and students perform better. Fewer students drop out; more students find their way to an appropriate major on time and on track. The result? More students stay at the university, eventually graduating, and this success produces some unanticipated enrollment growth.

We have admitted the same number of freshman students in summer and fall for the past several years, right at 5,900 new students and another 2,000 transfer students each year. Even so, our undergraduate population keeps growing because our students now succeed, don't drop out, and go on to finish their degrees. So for a period of three or four more years, we will continue to see our undergraduate enrollment grow, simply by virtue of successful students staying and completing their degrees. At the same time, though, more students will graduate on time, without requiring excess hours or semesters to finish. This will reduce the number of students on campus. By the year 2002, we will have reached a steady state where the students staying are a good balance to the students graduating on time. By then, we will have just fewer than 34,000 undergraduates at the University of Florida, and we will stay at that number.

We continue to grow our graduate student population, including masters degrees and doctorates. We need to increase the percentage of graduate students to correspond to the high quality of our faculty research programs and the substantial and growing level of externally funded research. Today, graduate students make up about 20.5 percent of our student population. By the year 2005-06, when we will achieve a stable UF population of about 47,000 students, graduate students will represent some 25.6 percent of the total. This ratio brings us more into line with our competitors among the large AAU public research universities.

Whether graduate or undergraduate, the key to the quality of the university lies not just in the numbers but in the quality of the students we attract. We do very well with our undergraduates, bringing in record numbers of National Merit, Achievement, and Hispanic scholars along with superb high school graduates. Whatever index number you choose, our undergraduates rank at the top level of American universities, public or private. We now need to turn to the graduate students and develop stronger incentives to recruit and retain the very best graduate students for our programs. We already draw outstanding graduate students, but as we begin to expand the graduate student numbers we must develop the recruitment, financial aid, fellowship, and other incentives that will allow us to continue to compete with the best American research universities.

Our faculty provide the intellectual excitement that draws graduate students here, and our campaign, It's Performance that Counts, will bring us the resources to support those students for their Masters and especially for their doctorate degrees.