Student Success

Meeting the Needs of Students to Cross the Finish Line

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A graduation ceremony and a job in New York were on the horizon. Nicola Liotto, a finance and international business major, would be the first generation in his Italian family to obtain a university degree.

But classes were increasingly expensive especially for an international student. If Liotto’s parents, still in Italy where his dad is a bus driver, couldn’t pay tuition he would have to delay graduation, drop classes or even take the semester off.

Liotto turned to his advisor for guidance and found assistance in the Dean’s Destination Fund. He received financial help for the fall 2023 semester and used the funds to cover tuition.

“For me it was everything. I wouldn’t have been able to find an internship or a job,” said Liotto, who will graduate in December 2024. “Going back home without finishing would have been an unsuccessful journey.”

Nicola Liotto

The fund was originally created to assist students who needed a little extra financial help to graduate in four years instead of being forced to drop out of school or fall behind. Today the fund can assist students with an increasing number of unprecedented financial challenges.

In the 2022-2023 academic year the fund awarded $181,472.

“Sometimes students have taken on an extra job or an extra shift at a part-time job to make money,” said William Hardin, dean of FIU Business. “Our students are not taking these jobs simply to have something to do. They're working because they need the resources. So, if we can diminish that through aid, it helps because they can better focus on achievement.”

Liotto’s early dream was to be a soccer star. He came the U.S. to play soccer at a community college in California but decided not to pursue the sport and to focus on academics. He selected FIU Business for his BBA and transferred.

Angela Bullard-Thomas, associate director of the Office of Academic Advising at FIU Business, explained that the mission of the Dean’s Destination Fund is to anticipate students’ needs and situations that may arise. She added it’s not just a competitive scholarship based on GPA. Other factors considered are the student’s academic progress and credit enrollment toward degree completion. The support provided moves the needle to help students finish their undergraduate studies within four years.

“We’re not putting a band-aid on the situation; some students come across unforeseen circumstances that temporarily disrupt their ability to finance their education,” said Bullard-Thomas. “For some if they miss a payment their enrollment is on hold. If any student is close to the end and needs a little bit of help, we can help them finish it up.

As the fund help’s students reach their goal, it makes more of an impact on the graduation rate.

Among FIU Business students who graduated by summer 2023, the 4-year graduation rate reached 67.5%, up from 32.8% in 2016, a 34.7% increase. The 6-year rate was 79.4%, up from 62.2% in 2016, a 17.4% increase.

“There's no reason that if we admit those students and provide the resources, they cannot graduate in four years,” said Hardin. “We want to make sure those undergraduate students are prepared and complete their degree on a timely basis, no matter what their income level is or their socio-economic standing.”

For Liotto, who’s proud to say maintains a 4.0 GPA, the Dean’s Destination Fund made the internship and full-time job after graduation a reality. “To me it would have been a failure not to be able to get them.”

In May, he begins an internship at bond credit rating and financial research firm Moody's Investors Service in New York.

“I was looking for opportunities and interviews for a full year,” Liotto said. “Now I realize that it took a lot of effort to be able to finish and now I will be able to enjoy the results.”