Florida Atlantic University has received the 2024 American Council on Education (ACE)/Fidelity Investments Award for Institutional Transformation.

The award, established in 2014, recognizes institutions that responded to higher education challenges in innovative and creative ways and achieved dramatic changes in a relatively brief period.

“It is an honor to receive the ACE/Fidelity Investments Award for Institutional Transformation, as it affirms Florida Atlantic’s unwavering commitment to excellence and innovation,” said FAU President Stacy Volnick. “Florida Atlantic is on an upward trajectory, as we continue to increase graduation rates, rise in the ‘U.S. News’ rankings and improve outcomes for all students. We are incredibly proud to be recognized for these efforts, and as a leader in higher education, by ACE.”

FAU decided to take targeted action to increase its retention and graduation rates in 2014, and it set a goal to break down barriers for first-year students to raise these metrics.

With this goal in mind, FAU formed groups to lead a new approach called team-based analytics, in which people at different levels and roles within the university came together to develop interventions and analyze trends. The groups used a variety of methods and tools to design, make, as well as track student-centered interventions constructed to promote progression and degree completion, improve curricula frameworks, and issue targeted financial assistance.

Using findings from this approach, the university designed and issued plans of study for bachelor’s programs, with each student adopting a “flight plan”— a semester-by-semester map of classes, along with additional academic milestones — and created a streamlined advising system where each student received support from a three-person team. FAU also refined its curricula to offer greater flexibility to students and created the Launch Scholarship, a targeted award to help students remain enrolled.

FAU’s four-year graduation rate has doubled since the university embarked on this plan. By leveraging team-based analytics, nearly 3,000 students graduated in the past five years who otherwise would not have finished. Team-based analytics is now a permanent fixture at the university and will be the backbone of its work to support students going forward.

“We are truly grateful to be recognized for our innovative approach to student success, which has provided our region with a more qualified workforce and enhanced the value of a degree from Florida Atlantic,” said Russ Ivy, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs at FAU.

ACE invited nominations and applications for the award from any U.S. college or university eligible for ACE membership. FAU was awarded for the category of institutions with student populations of 12,001 and more, while the University of California, Merced was awarded for institutions with student populations of up to 12,000.

“I am thrilled to be able to present this award to two outstanding institutions that have flourished in the face of adversity,” said Ted Mitchell, president of ACE. “Florida Atlantic University’s use of leading-edge student programing has supported students and helped boost graduation rates, highlighting the power of innovation in higher education. Both institutions exemplify how our members use critical thinking and creativity to serve all learners.”

Lisa Metcalf, Florida Atlantic University