Visit Citebite Deep link provided by Citebite
Close this shade

Concern mounts over FAMU's enrollment, graduation rate

By Denise-Marie Balona, Orlando Sentinel

8:27 p.m. EST, June 30, 2012
  • Florida A&M President James Ammons.
Florida A&M President James Ammons. (Jun 30, 2012)

Florida A&M University hired President James Ammons five years ago to turn around the school that was struggling with accreditation problems and financial mismanagement.

But academic performance at Florida's only public, historically black university has suffered or remained stagnant in some key areas under his leadership, public records show.

State education leaders say part of the problem lies with a controversial policy the Ammons administration has embraced. In recent years, FAMU has opened its doors to a skyrocketing number of students who did not meet the most basic admissions criteria.

Thousands of students enter FAMU despite being ill-equipped for the rigors of university course work. Only 12 percent of those who start as freshmen finish in four years. Only 39 percent graduate within six. And those who eventually earn bachelor's degrees leave with the highest debt load, about $29,000, of any state university.

Not only is the low graduation rate hurting students' pockets, but the state also loses money when students must retake classes or when they take additional classes after changing majors because the work gets too tough.

It is a problem that has been discussed with concern in recent years by some faculty, members of the university's board of trustees and State University Chancellor Frank Brogan.

Yet over the past several years, FAMU has hiked up its percentage of so-called "profile admits," students whose grades or SAT scores fell short, who did not take enough math in high school or who failed to meet other requirements.

Historically, FAMU has had a much higher percentage of profile admits compared with the state's other public universities, most of which limit these admissions to less than 1 percent of undergraduate enrollment. But last year, more than half of FAMU's 11,022 undergraduates were profile admits — up from 14 percent in fall 2006, the year before Ammons was hired,

Both Ammons and Solomon Badger, chairman of the school's trustees, defended FAMU's profile admits, saying that the university's historic mission has been to provide opportunities to students turned away by other institutions.

Although the state sets minimum standards for admission to the university system, Badger explained, schools have the authority to consider other factors, including students' special talents and their socioeconomic status and family educational background.

Badger and other university officials pointed out last week that the rise in profile admits is likely related, at least in part, to tougher state-level admissions standards adopted in recent years and the fact that students were not labeled as profile admits and tracked before 2000.

It makes no sense, Badger said, to reject bright students simply because they do not do well on college-entrance exams or miss a few foreign-language credits. "Sometimes, a student has to have an opportunity to go to school," he said.

Situation 'almost immoral'

Some education leaders, including members of the Board of Governors of the State University System, have sharply criticized FAMU for its slipping four-year graduation rate, low six-year graduation rate, faltering freshmen-retention rate, rising number of profile admits and accreditation troubles.

Late last month, board Chairman Dean Colson said it is "almost immoral" for FAMU to knowingly take in so many students who will struggle, allowing them to rack up heaps of loan debt trying to get through school and, in most cases, never graduate.

FAMU students are not wealthy. Nearly 70 percent of its Florida students come from families that make less than $40,000 a year.

"It's perfectly appropriate for your mission to include young people who aren't quite ready for college," Colson told the Orlando Sentinel. "But if you're going to do that, then you must provide the support these young people need to succeed."

Ammons noted during a recent Board of Governors meeting that FAMU's six-year graduation rate is not much lower than some other universities' — Florida International and Florida Atlantic universities, for example — despite admitting a higher number of students who do not meet state admissions criteria. He stressed that FAMU is a national leader in helping black students earn bachelor's degrees. "Even though we are concerned about the rate of graduation, FAMU is an important institution for the graduation of African-Americans for this nation," he told the board.

State Sen. Evelyn Lynn, who heads the Senate's higher-education budget committee, predicts that FAMU and other schools might start choosing applicants more carefully if Florida moves to a system that funds schools based on their success in areas such as graduation rates.

FAMU, among the state's lowest-performing universities, received the second-highest amount of state funding per student — $8,380 — during the 2011-12 school year. The University of Florida, a top performer, received $6,482 per student.

  • UncleRob at 6:24 PM July 1, 2012

    How much more evidence of ammons' incompetency is needed before they bounce his butt out the door?

    Gov. Scott called it months ago -- ammons must go. What are these idiots waiting for?

  • ThomasLong at 12:08 PM July 1, 2012

    Looks like some house cleaning might be in order, says a taxpayer.  Starting from the top (mis) management down to the admissions office (mis) managers--all should be replaced.   Educators at a university level owe it to their students to begin by accepting only students that qualify academically.  It appears that this was not a consideration at this university.  The drop-out, years-to-graduate, and graduate numbers tell the story quite clearly.  Where am I wrong?

  • courtneymilford at 11:29 AM July 1, 2012

    Shouldn't kids who aren't ready for university-level work start at community college?

All comments are filtered for vulgar language, for web addresses and for e-mail addresses. Those will cause comments to generate an error message or not to post. Registration on is required to comment. The Sentinel makes no guarantee of comments' factual accuracy. Readers may report inappropriate comments by clicking the Report Abuse link. (Here are the full legal terms you agree to by posting a comment.)