University of South Florida


Law speaks on a panel, surrounded by four other university presidents.

Law joins fellow university presidents at national conference to highlight the value of higher education

By Elizabeth Metcalf, University Communications and Marketing

Ask a family or student affairs professional about the greatest barriers to pursuing higher education, and the answers often will include cost, lack of a support system and navigating unfamiliar environments.

During a panel session hosted this week at a National Student Success Conference in Orlando, University of South Florida President Rhea Law shared how the university is addressing these challenges while noting the long-term benefits of earning a college degree. 

Law, a first-generation college student who is also the first alumna to serve as USF president, reflected on her long and winding journey with the university — one that started with her taking classes part-time at night while working in USF’s Office of Sponsored Research, which helped pay for her bachelor’s degree, due to USF’s tuition assistance program for employees.  

“USF is not just a place where you go, you get your degree, and you leave. It is a lifelong commitment and a lifelong connection — and that connection allowed me to come back and take this position,” Law said.

Law was joined by Alexander Cartwright, president of the University of Central Florida; Kenneth Jessell, president of Florida International University; and Helios Education Foundation CEO Paul Luna for an hour-long conversation that focused on the value of higher education in interesting times.

While discussing the current narrative surrounding higher education, Law emphasized that Florida’s higher education system is a significant value for students and their families, noting that tuition at USF hasn’t increased in over a decade. Florida continues to have the lowest average tuition and fees for in-state students in the nation, helping lead to 77 percent of resident undergraduate students remaining loan-free, according to the Florida Board of Governors.

A word cloud projected onto a screen reveals that the word "opportunity" was included in the most responses in a survey of the room.

A survey of the room revealed that the word "opportunity" was used in the most responses to a question regarding the value of postsecondary education. 

“People don’t understand the benefits of a university degree and how it can open people’s eyes to the opportunities they might not understand are out there,” Law said. “College is not the only pathway to success, but if you want to hedge your bets, higher education will give you that ability to move forward. It gives you the opportunity to have a broader network and to learn more about many more things. You come out of school with a degree that’s going to give you a leg up as you’re applying for a job.”

The panelists also discussed some of the key takeaways their institutions have gained from participating in the Florida Consortium of Metropolitan Research Universities. The collaborative partnership between USF, UCF and FIU receives support from Helios to encourage knowledge sharing and to maximize the benefits of these three institutions’ locations in the state’s largest metropolitan areas.  

One example Law highlighted is USF’s efforts to support transfer students, an initiative enhanced by funding provided by Helios and the Lumina Foundation to the Consortium’s member institutions in 2022 to help reduce “transfer shock” and shorten the time it takes these students to complete their degrees. 

USF's Office of Transfer Student Success has more than 12,000 touchpoints with students each year, and their team offers a diverse array of resources to support their academic journey. Those include peer mentoring, a course focused on the transition to a new university, and an online tool that helps transfer students better understand how their credits will apply to their USF degree.  

The panelists agreed that colleges and universities can do more to promote the impact their institutions have on society and counter the narrative that higher education isn't worth the time, effort or cost.  

A recent survey conducted by the Chronicle of Higher Education found that most Americans still believe in the value of higher education and obtaining a college degree, as it relates to personal achievement, but they're less confident about all the other ways in which higher education institutions benefit society. Law said one way of addressing this is to spotlight successful university-community partnerships and the outcomes of these endeavors — an area in which USF has renewed its focus since Law became president in March 2022.   

“That’s one of the things that I think really distinguishes metropolitan universities," Law said. "We have a community that we can reach out to and benefit by giving them access to our researchers and our students who will be a part of their workforce by having them be a part of our curriculum development. Our partners come to us as members of advisory groups, and they tell us how we can align our curriculum so that we can prepare our students not only for today, but also for the future.” 

More information on how to partner with USF is available through the Office of University Community Partnerships.

Return to article listing