NICEVILLE — A huge boost in student retention rates in the last year has propelled Northwest Florida State College to a Silver ranking and has made the school eligible for some serious money under the Florida College System’s performance-based funding scheme.

“For the first time since the inception of the Performance-Based Funding ... NWF State has been designated to the Silver category,” College President Devin Stephenson said in a news release. “This is a significant move upward for the college and the attainment of one of the significant goals in our College’s 2017-2020 Strategic Plan.”

In 2015 the state Board of Education, which oversees the state’s 28 colleges, approved Performance Based Funding, implemented a system that scores each school based on four categories: retention rates, completion rates, job placement/continuing education rates and entry level wages.

NWF State has for each of the last three fiscal years — 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18 — achieved a Bronze College designation in the competition for funding. The rating entitles the college to receive “base” funding set aside each year by the Florida Legislature, but prevents it from receiving “performance dollars” that go to schools that obtain Silver or Gold ratings.

The college has shown steady improvement on the 10-point scale for job placement/continuing education and entry level wages, but has struggled with completion numbers and particularly with retention rates. Never before had the school ranked higher than the exceptionally low 1.00 for retention.

That changed in a big way for 2018-19, when NWF State jumped from one to 10 in retention, a leap that secured the Silver ranking and approximately $480,000 in additional funding, said Randy White, the school’s vice president of administrative services/chief financial officer.

“Since 2016, we have lost approximately $1.3 million in ‘new’ funding that we would have received had we been in the Silver or Gold categories instead of Bronze,” White said.

The school also received a highest 10 score for wages in 2018-19, maintaining that number for the second straight year. In the first year of scoring the college received just 0.30 for wages before jumping to 3.0 and then to 10.

A slight drop, from 10 to 9.38 occurred in the college’s job placement/continuing education score, and completion rates dropped for the fourth straight scoring year from 3.67 to 2.33.

In its news release sent out Monday, college officials credited three things for the upward movement in performance funding criteria.  Pauline Anderson, hired as dean of institutional research the same year Stephenson became president in 2017, received kudos for initiating changes that sparked an unprecedented turnaround.

The first was developing a way to identify and accurately track the students to whom the retention rate scores apply.

“We are actively tracking our student cohort to ensure their success and improve upon our student outreach strategies,” Anderson said in the release.

The college has also implemented an “auto graduation process that allows us to graduate students who have the credits to obtain a credential,” the news release said. It has also created a call center within its Student Success Division “that has been critical to student retention efforts.”

Stephenson credited faculty and staff for making great strides “to move the needle and achieve Silver status for our college.

“Our students are succeeding in their academic pursuits and career goals at greater levels than before,” he said. “The real return on investment for our efforts will be recognized in the success of our students. That is why we exist, and that is why we serve.”