University of South Florida and Benedict College Receive ACE/Fidelity Investments Award for Institutional Transformation
Published: March 10, 2019

ACE announced today that the University of South Florida (USF) and Benedict College in South Carolina are the recipients of the 2019 ACE/Fidelity Investments Award for Institutional Transformation. Presented at ACE2019, ACE’s 101st Annual Meeting, the awards were accepted by USF President Judy Genshaft and Benedict President Roslyn Clark Artis on behalf of their respective institutions.

The award was created to recognize institutions that have responded to higher education challenges in innovative and creative ways and achieved dramatic changes in a relatively brief period. It includes a $10,000 prize. 

“Through strategic thinking and measured efforts, University of South Florida and Benedict College have both transformed their campuses to better prioritize student success, scholarly achievement, and innovation,” said ACE President Ted Mitchell. “Thank you to Fidelity Investments for its generous support, which allows us each year to recognize colleges and universities that are meeting challenges head-on.”

“Together with ACE, Fidelity is honored to celebrate higher education institutions helping students succeed on campus and in life,” said Patrick Vaughan, senior vice president, managing director, and higher education practice leader, Fidelity Investments. “These schools have proven that a clear vision of serving students can put an institution on a path to sustained success.”

ACE invited nominations and applications for the award from any U.S. college or university eligible for ACE membership, divided into two categories: the first for institutions with student populations of over 5,000 (USF), and the second for institutions with student populations of up to 5,000 (Benedict).

USF launched a student success movement in 2010 to elevate the performance of all students. Using data and predictive analytics to drive performance, USF raised its six-year graduation rate from 51 to 73 percent between 2010 and 2018. It eliminated the school’s achievement gaps by race, ethnicity, and income level, earning national recognition by The Education Trust and the Third Way organizations for Black, Hispanic, and Pell-eligible student success. In the summer of 2018, the Florida Board of Governors designated USF as a Preeminent State Research University, placing it in the most elite category of that state's public universities and awarding it significant state funds.

This drastic institutional transformation was marked by the consolidation of student support units into a single administrative unit; the use of “real-time” data to identify at-risk students; the development of a case management model to facilitate student success; and a breakdown of the silos in which academic affairs, student affairs, information technology, institutional research, and other departmental units operated. 

In 2017, President Genshaft articulated a new philosophy reflective of the evolving culture: We believe every student will succeed if given the opportunity to do so.

“Presuming students will succeed when given equal opportunity to do so is a core tenant of our transformation,” said Genshaft. “All faculty and staff take responsibility for giving students the tools to overcome barriers and reach their goals.”

Founded in 1870 by Bathsheba Benedict, Benedict College is a private, designated historically black college and university serving 2,100 students in Columbia, South Carolina. Years of downward trends in enrollment, poor retention, and a modest endowment created significant financial instability, which was further exacerbated by an aging infrastructure; increased competition in student recruitment; a traditional tuition-only business model that left little room for innovation; and academic and degree programs that were not aligned with industry expectations.

Upon President Artis’ appointment in June 2017, Benedict started assessing these issues while formulating a five-year strategic plan for sustainability and growth. Beginning by gathering insight from key stakeholders, Benedict then eliminated long-standing open enrollment, strengthened career development opportunities, lowered tuition, revised the curriculum to align with the industry and focus on innovation, created a strategic and dedicated enrollment management division, increased first-year student support, and reduced debt. 

“When I joined Benedict in the fall of 2017, I coined ‘The BEST of BC’ to acknowledge the college’s rich legacy, and to point toward creating a community of excellence, scholarly achievement, and talent development that embraces technology and innovation,” said Artis.

By the summer of 2018, applications increased by 20 percent and admissions by 14 percent. Benedict welcomed over 750 new students in fall 2018–the largest class in five years. It also transformed into a fiscally stable institution, despite lowering tuition.

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