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Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President

2011-2012 Provost Lecture Series

Lawrence Abele

Successful Strategies for Improving Retention and Graduation

Friday, November 4, 2011
10:30 a.m. - noon
Hemisphere Room
Hale Library

Lawrence Abele
Director, Institute for Academic Leadership
Provost Emeritus, Florida State University

Presentation Slides in .PDF

Biographical Sketch

Lawrence Abele has been involved in national and international academic issues for more than a quarter of a century. During this time he has provided leadership and insight into such important issues as accountability, student learning, improving retention and graduation, student satisfaction, faculty evaluation and training for academic administration.

His experience includes service as a department chair (nine years, biological science), Dean of Arts and Sciences (three years), and Provost (16 years). He has directed and continues to direct the Institute for Academic Leadership since 1994 providing training for department chairs from throughout the State University System of Florida.

Abele has served numerous national groups, including the Board of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, chairing the Council of Academic Affairs, the Board of the Voluntary System of Accountability, chair of the Committee of Visitors of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute as well as several advisory panels of the National Science Foundation. He served as President of the Crustacean Society and, with one of his students, has twice received the Outstanding Paper Award. He has published more than 75 scientific papers and has given hundreds of talks on scientific topics as well as on important academic issues. He was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and in 2009 received the Pacesetter Award, the highest national award honoring those who have made a significant contribution to student advising.

Abele has contributed significantly to the following areas of academics and administration:

  • Enrollment Management
  • Assessment of Student Learning
  • Retention and graduation, particularly of underrepresented groups
  • Faculty evaluation, especially relating to promotion and tenure
  • Teaching quality and quantity
  • Student Advising
  • Financial structure of academic units

Currently, Abele serves as Director of the Institute for Academic Leadership and as a Council member of the federal Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council.


Current college students will be the first American generation less well educated than their parents and, as a result, the US has fallen from first to twelfth among the OECD nations in educational attainment. It will only get worse without serious intervention as the current six-year graduation rate among public four-year institutions is an embarrassing 54.2%. The cost of this low rate is huge in lost human capital and in “lost” tuition and state support.

Graduation rates can be increased with focused commitment, data-driven actions and focused attention to details. There is no single action for success and progress requires many actions sustained over a long period of time. Examples of low cost successful actions include offering students an “academic map” for each degree program with term-by-term courses that must be completed to continue to register; having advisors carefully record by time-of-day and day-of-week all interactions with students along with every question asked; building a series of action steps for students that are aligned with the academic calendar; and creating Freshmen Interest Groups. Some examples of higher cost actions include re-engineering high enrollment, low success courses; adding a “Successful Learning Strategy” course; adding tutors, both drop-in and by appointment, for certain courses; adding advisors; and adding coaches. To the extent possible, each of these actions was tested with randomized, controlled trials. Increases in tuition collection can both cover the costs of improving retention and graduation and yield new revenues for additional investments in the university.