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FGCU sees historic growth and so does Southwest Florida

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LEE COUNTY

Florida Gulf Coast University has seen historic growth over the past four years. Now, the organization is trying to build in a way that benefits Southwest Florida.

The university opened 24 years ago, and the campus has grown, looking more massive and modern than its humble beginnings in 1997.

As schools grew, so did Southwest Florida.

The area around the FGCU campus reflects that development with businesses and homes seemingly springing up as quickly as developers can complete construction.

Rebecca Paul, a senior at FGCU, grew up in SWFL and can’t remember an area without schools.

“I want to stay local and I always go on field trips and summer camps at FGCU. I’ve always loved the environment here,” said Paul, a FGCU general studies major with a focus on biology.

But it hasn’t always yielded positive results for some of the FGCU students in the classroom.

In the fall of 2017, the school hit a new low when the 4-year graduation rate stood at just 23% and the school’s data showed students struggling, especially after freshman and sophomore years.

“The hard task was, we knew we needed to organize our campus to refocus ourselves, what do we need to do to improve on these key metrics,” said Dr. FGCU chair for Student Admissions and Success Management.

The process begins when Cordova is selected to lead a successful group of new students,

The school has rebuilt nearly every part of the student experience, from welcome events to a new career center to better access to faculty.

“I feel they are focusing more on targeting students who are more likely to fail in school. So I, coming from a first-generation background, a lot of resources and clubs helped in that way, to make sure I was successful,” Paul said.

Cordova said they need to treat students more like colleagues.

Four years later, the numbers reflect change.

The graduation rate has increased from 23% to 42%.

Data from the National Center for Education shows that FGCU is still not up to par with some historic Florida schools; however, it has caught up with similarly sized universities.

“We now know that we can achieve great things; we are doing it,” Cordova said. “That gives us confidence as an organization.”

Enrollment rates are also up 2.5% since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and 4.5% in fall 2021 from fall 2020.

“We already have more graduates, but our enrollment continues to grow,” says Cordova.

Currently, the student population reaches a record 16,000 people.

“For us, it is strategic growth. We will not grow for the sake of growth. But let’s grow where we know our region needs us,” said Cordova.

They have poured money and resources into developing programs that directly serve and benefit Southwest Florida.

“It means continuously growing the workforce in healthcare, continuously growing the workforce in education,” says Cordova.

It also means developing the school’s most unique property, The Water School, an organization that is working to help clean up some of Southwest Florida’s most precious resources.

“We care about the environment. We love our environment. And that is the beauty of our organization,” said Cordova.

It can also mean more young professionals and money into the local economy.

“Our alumni will stay here; they’re working here in Southwest Florida. They will give back to the organization when they are ready to do it,” said Cordova.

Paul has almost finished her college degree and hopes to stay nearby.

“It gives me a lot of pride,” Paul said. “This will be my alma mater, and I am certainly proud to say that to so many people.”

FGCU says more than 1,000 students have applied to graduate this semester.

https://www.winknews.com/2021/12/07/fgcu-sees-historic-growth-and-so-does-southwest-florida/ FGCU sees historic growth and so does Southwest Florida

Aila Slisco

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