How the University of South Florida is Tackling the College Gender Gap

Civitas Learning Success Stories

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Explore how the University of South Florida leverages analytics to support male-identified student success with interventions that work at their institution.

If you’ve been paying attention to the work to eliminate equity gaps in higher education, you’re likely familiar with the widely recognized and award-winning University of South Florida story. A long-time partner, the Civitas Learning Student Impact Platform was a primary tool used to achieve all-time highs in student retention and on-time graduation and eliminate achievement gaps by race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. 

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To their credit, USF hasn’t been content to stop there. Because monitoring metrics for all segments of their student population is standard practice, USF recognized that the gender graduation difference between men and women was their largest remaining equity gap. At USF, men graduate at around 18% lower rates than women at the four-year mark and 9% at the six-year mark. The gap is evident in all colleges and within all demographic groups, with the lowest-performing group in terms of graduation rates being Hispanic males, followed by white males.

“It starts in early childhood, involves socio-cultural and biological factors, and manifests in numerous ways. As such, it defies simple solutions or single interventions like male mentoring engagement programs alone. It will take a coordinated and institution-wide effort to make a difference.”

William Cummings, Associate Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Student Success, University of South Florida

Identifying Opportunities to Engage with Male-Identified Students

According to William Cummings, Associate Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Student Success, the problem of male-identified student disengagement and trailing completion rates is enormously complex. “It starts in early childhood, involves socio-cultural and biological factors, and manifests in numerous ways. As such, it defies simple solutions or single interventions like male-identified mentoring engagement programs alone. It will take a coordinated and institution-wide effort to make a difference.”

A cornerstone of USF’s approach to male-identified student success is harnessing rich data insights from their analytics tools. Taking a systematic approach, they began by identifying courses that disproportionately impact male-identified student success using course insights capabilities within the Civitas Learning Student Impact Platform. To add context to those findings, they also use the Student Impact Platform to examine academic behavior patterns that signal success. 

This additional insight enables the USF team to learn what specific actions successful men take to graduate on time. The most critical area that has emerged from a comprehensive data analysis is the need for practices, policies, and programs that support and encourage the successful accumulation of credit hours. Completing course credits that apply to their degree plan is where men lag women from the point of enrollment throughout their degree progression.

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How USF is Helping Male-Identified Students Succeed

The USF president appointed a cross-functional team – the Status of Men Presidential Advisory Committee to put their data insights to use. “We are creating a blueprint for actions designed to ensure that all men succeed. It will take changes in courses, curricula, academic policy, and university processes – along with the effort these men need to put in – but we are closing in on the right steps to take as an institution to guarantee that every student succeeds,” says Cummings. In close coordination with Student Success and Diversity, Inclusion, and Equal Opportunity, the Committee on Status of Men has initiated or contributed to several initiatives for male-identified student success. 

The Committee on Status of Men launched an inventory of male-identified success programs and practices across the USF system to promote cooperation and shared learning. They then initiated a nudge campaign using the Civitas Learning Student Impact Platform, sending targeted and timely messages encouraging students toward key services such as academic advising, career counseling, New Student Connections, and the Academic Success Center. Future activities include a mentoring program that pairs up to 3000 incoming males with upper-class males, which will each encourage the academic behaviors that facilitate credit accumulation and progression toward graduation.

No One-Size-Fits-All Approaches

USF’s institution-specific approach to closing the college gender gap aligns with findings in a meta-analysis of 3094 student success initiative analyses of student success programs and interventions that effectively support male-identified student persistence, run by Civitas Learning partner institutions. We can tell from these data that there is no one-size-fits-all intervention to keep male-identified students enrolled. Each institution’s data will show different results for their specific interventions and populations – and that is precisely the point.

USF’s use of descriptive, diagnostic, and predictive analytics enabled them to discover areas of concern and signal-related factors to focus further investigation and action. The Civitas Learning Student Impact Platform helped the USF team understand the effectiveness of ongoing efforts allowing them to take precise steps to immediately make a difference in the success of their male-identified students.

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Dr. Angela Baldasare, founder and principal of WONK Research + Consulting, helps organizations of all kinds effectively use data to achieve measurable outcomes. Prior to forming her own business, Angela was a principal consultant at Civitas Learning where she provided strategic guidance to colleges and universities across the country. With a Ph.D. in sociology, Angela has always been interested in helping people understand and use data to effect meaningful change. From 2014 to 2018, Angela served as the assistant provost for institutional research at the University of Arizona, where she can be credited with helping UA to improve student outcomes and ultimately earn double-digit gains in national college rankings. Angela began her career as an assistant professor at the University of Dayton and then spent 10 years consulting on public health, human services, and justice projects for the Arizona Governor’s Office, U.S. Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Department of Justice.

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