The best Higher Education (HE) leaders understand that university work is mission-driven — it involves inspiring yourself and those around you, even in times of challenge or pushback from students and other forces.
Paul Dosal, Senior Vice President for Student Success at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, sat down with Kitty Hadaway, GoodCourse Universities Lead to discuss his academic interests, commitment to student safety, and more.
My name is Paul Dosal, and I serve as the Senior Vice President for Student Success at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. I preside over a new division that encompasses the entire undergraduate student journey from admissions to student engagement to career services.
I started out as an Assistant Professor of Latin American History in 1987, published several books and worked my way up to the rank of full professor of History. Eventually, I wanted to try something new and I took that proverbial wrong turn and ended up in administration. I moved into my first full-time administrative role in 2007.
It’s really related. I was always a committed teacher, looking for better ways to teach. I carried some of that over in that I wanted to ensure we were teaching most effectively using the best methods to produce the desired outcomes. I now have 61,000 undergraduates that I’m looking after — a much larger cohort.
I’ve been in my current position since July, and I knew then that this university had a great student engagement program. Students see this as a destination university and they’re generally not disappointed with their experience. We recently reported a 93% first-year retention rate, and that is largely a tribute to the great student engagement programs and traditions that are in place.
I think in general, what I see here and probably elsewhere is that students engage most naturally with other student organizations. Where they’re not as well engaged is with the offices and support services we have around campus. I want to promote both kinds of engagement, not just student engagement where they attach themselves to other organizations, but also the support they can receive to enhance their time here. They don’t often ask for help, but we need to be proactive and reach out to them.
I want to promote both kinds of engagement, not just student engagement where they attach themselves to other organizations, but also the support they can receive to enhance their time here.
UCF has in place a behavioral intervention team which is set up as a cross-functional team with different support units involved, ranging from counseling to university police. The goal of that group is to monitor student behavior as a means of addressing and preventing tragedies.
They do a great job of monitoring student behavior using a case management approach. We refer students to the appropriate offices in a timely way as a means of preventing those types of incidents.
We have to keep our costs down regarding tuition and fees. In the State of Florida, we are obliged to monitor our fees, and we keep them as low as possible. We’re proud to serve a large number of limited-income students — 32 to 35%.
Even then, we have to recognize that students will face financial difficulties. We have emergency grant programs available to students in times of need. It helps them concentrate on their studies. Institutions can level the playing field for students by offering financial aid at levels that make it possible for students to enrol full time. Most importantly, the best way to manage debt levels is to enable students to complete their degree in a timely way.
We’ve been through probably the most difficult time in the history of HE. We’re coming out of it, but we’re still dealing with challenges, like people questioning the value and cost of HE. Despite those challenges, HE is a mission-driven job that attracts people who want to help students improve their lot in life.
I most admire the recently retired president of the University of Maryland, Dr. Freeman Hrabowski; he was an inspiration in so many ways. An African American man who grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, during the Civil Rights movement. He’s inspired many people around the country.
It’s always the last one I’ve read, which right now is The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson, on Churchill and the London Blitz.