FIU identified 17 critical gateway courses (AIM, 2014): high enrollment (>1,600), high failure (>15%), and/or high impact (strong predictor of dropping out or delayed graduation) courses, with a combined total enrollment of 43,333 (2014-15). FIU’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching (CAT) was tasked to devise and lead efforts supporting faculty as they developed plans for improving course design and pedagogy toward student learning and success. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation/APLU-funded Transformational Change Collaborative has and will continue to support the refinement and implementation of these plans through 2021.

FIU’s Gateway Project responds to the well-established problem that the transition from high school to higher education is fraught with challenges and that first-year student retention is highly correlated with graduation. These challenges are heightened for students from traditionally underserved groups and further compounded for first-generation college students (Scott-Clayton, 2015). Experiences in the academic realm are often the most abrupt and consequential (Erickson, 2006), confirmed by FIU analyses: As in most universities, the single greatest point in time when we lose students is from the first to second year, and the largest reason for dropout after the first year is poor academic performance. Our 2nd-year retention rate of 80% means that 1 in 5 freshmen who started the previous fall do not return, and most do not graduate. Passing gateway courses predicts retention: Students who passed all of their gateway courses had retention rates up to 42% higher than those who failed multiple courses.

​The Gateway Project’s target population comprises all students who enroll in the gateway courses on which we have focused our efforts.

Gateway Project Courses

SLS 1501

First Year Experience

ENC 1101, 1102

Writing and Rhetoric I and II

AMH 2020, 2042

American History Since 1877; Modern American Civilization

REL 2011, 3308

Religion: Analysis & Interpretation; Studies in World Religion

*MAC 1105, 2311

College Algebra; Calculus

*MGF 1106, 1107

Finite Math; Math of Social Choice & Decision Making

*STA 2122, 2023

Statistics for Behavioral & Social Sciences & Statistics for Business & Economics

*MAC 1140, 1114

Pre-Calculus Algebra; Trigonometry

*MAC 2312

Calculus II

BSC 2010, 2023

General Biology; Human Biology

CHM 1045

General Chemistry

ECO 2013, 2023

Principles of Macroeconomics; Principles of Microeconomics

PSY 2012

Introduction to Psychology


Goals & Objectives

With a focus on the application of teaching and learning research and continuous reflection, the Gateway Project aims to improve student learning and performance by

  • reducing the number of courses first-year students fail; 
  • identifying student’s perceptions, experiences and behaviors associated with performance; 
  • supporting the redesign of gateway courses; 
  • promoting evidenced-based, learning centered, and culturally responsive instruction; and 
  • empowering faculty and varied stakeholders as partners in student success.

The core elements of CAT’s Gateway Project programming include communication and collaboration with and amongst department chairs, structured faculty work sessions and gateway course data collection and analysis.

I. Chairs’ Luncheons

Invite department chairs and directors to discuss topics relevant to student success in gateway courses. Structured as informal conversations and workshops addressing fundamental issues, including strategic scheduling, course coordination and consistency, evaluating teaching, and effectively interpreting/using data for student learning and faculty success, while promoting community-building across departments.

II. Faculty Institutes

Offer single and multi-day hands-on, interdisciplinary or discipline-based work sessions providing faculty with structured opportunities to review course performance and student data so that they might collaboratively and or independently design or substantially redesign their gateway course(s).

III. Gateway Student Perceptions & Behaviors Surveys (GSPBs)

In collaboration with Dr. Tekla Nicholas, Senior Statistical Researcher in the Office of Retention and Graduation Success, surveys were developed to explore challenges and differences in student performance and engagement. The surveys were administered to students in gateway courses and the results used to inform gateway project goals, programming and course transformation.

IV. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

Facilitate sustainable change and leadership by providing conference travel grants and research support to faculty with a demonstrated interest or leadership in pedagogical development, teaching practices, and or sharing research ideas and findings.

What we learned? 

With more than 40,000 responses to our Student Perceptions & Behaviors surveys (GSPBs), we know more about practices that support student learning and minimize obstacles to student success than ever before. Grounded in qualitative research using interviews and focus groups, key categories emerged of students’ perceptions of their courses and how those feelings affected their study behaviors. Feelings about the course, peer interaction, personal effort and study time, as well as personal obstacles to success in the course had significant associations with course passing outcomes. Survey respondents also provided rich text responses about aspects of the course that helped them learn, as well as suggestions for change. After testing and refining the survey in several key courses, a brief set of “core” questions were identified as being most strongly associated with differences in students passing the course vs. dropping or failing. As faculty became more engaged in the process of data-based course reform, we provided course customization to assess innovations and measure progress.

Engaging faculty partners has been an essential element of bringing this data into the gateway course improvement process. Our strategies for disseminating research findings create opportunities for faculty to share their successful interventions and instructional designs while identifying needs for continued improvement. An essential element of all these practices is the development of trusting partnerships between faculty, faculty development professionals, researchers, and the students who share their experiences in our surveys.


Total Courses

# Gateway course sections

# non-Gateway course sections

# course instructors

# student responses

Fall 2020






Spring 2019






Fall 2018






Spring 2018






Fall 2017






Spring 2017






Fall 2016






Spring 2016






Course Performance

Since project implementation in Fall 2012, the percentage of FTIC students that pass all of the gateway courses that they take in their first year increased by almost 15%, and there was a 25% decrease in failure rates across the gateway courses. The 1st to 2nd Year Retention Rate has increased by 3% during the life of the Gateway Project. Passing rates continue a trend of improvement, resulting in over 8,000* additional successful course completions as of Fall 2018.

Faculty Feedback

In addition to the rich survey data, upon which faculty have developed evidenced-based teaching practices, gateway course completion and performance results, the perceived value of Gateway Project programming expressed by gateway faculty also serves as an important measure of success. 

Super excited about the relevance numbers – we’ve been working on this in course redesign. Also “comfort in class” numbers continue to rise – related to focus on class and program culture.

This was one of the more useful workshops that I have had at FIU as an instructor. It really helped me see the bigger picture of student success beyond my own classes and helped me view teaching at FIU as a community effort, rather than just an individual endeavor. I would highly recommend this to my peers.

I am very happy I made the time to be a part of the workshop, and even without the monetary reward, I would gladly do it again. I want to thank all of the organizers that took the time to create this deeply enriching, learning experience for us all. 

Recognizing Innovation and Excellence in Gateway Teaching

Established in 2015, by Provost Furton, FIUs Gateway Award for Excellence in Teaching recognizes the innovative and outstanding teaching in FIU’s gateway courses. The Center for the Advancement of Teaching coordinates the application process, and a panel of FIU faculty serves as jurors in the selection process. Awardees are recognized during fall convocation and the award is accompanied by a stipend of $5,000.

Gateway Award for Excellence in Teaching Awardees 2016-2020

Sat Gavassa, Department of Biology

Rachel Ritchie, Department of Psychology

Roneet Merkin, Department of Mathematics and Statistics

Uma Swamy, Department of Chemistry

Nicholas Vagnoni, Department of English