Florida Gulf Coast University’s wild ride into the Sweet Sixteen of the 2013 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship caught most people by surprise. Brackets were shattered. Sports fans across the country went from asking “FGC-Who?” to hashtagging “Dunk City.” Eagle-branded gear flew out of the University Bookstore as Eagle fans wore their pride on their sleeves. Admissions applications soon escalated.
But then the team made it again in 2016 and, in 2017, both the men’s and women’s teams won coveted spots in the NCAA Tournament. No one is asking “FGC-Who?” anymore and, in fact, some of the sports commentators are betting on FGCU to beat Florida State followed by Maryland (assuming Maryland beats Xavier).
FGCU doesn’t sneak up on its opponents anymore. It is recognized as a force to be reckoned with since becoming a Division I team. As the playoffs near on Thursday (the men) and Saturday (the women), the national spotlight will shine again on a university that has grown tremendously in 20 years and surged even more since its last layup in the NCAA limelight:
- Since opening in 1997, FGCU has conferred more than 25,000 degrees.
- Test scores and GPAs of admitted students have risen as the university sought higher-flying Eagles and slowed enrollment growth while holding tuition flat (5 years running).
- The FGCU Foundation launched a $100 million fundraising campaign to sustain the university’s momentum in the years to come. To date, that fund has collected $122 million – including the recent $10 million gift by Dr. Elaine Nicpon Marieb for whom the Marieb College of Health & Human Services now is named.
- Musicians playing Carnegie Hall, faculty conducting Zika research and athletes drafted by pro teams all brought priceless exposure.
Beyond the obvious physical changes since 2013 – a dramatic new campus entrance, a beautified Great Lawn, the completion of the Emergent Technologies Institute, improvements to North Lake
Village and the expansion of Alico Arena – comparing Dunk City off the court then and now is a study in remarkable transformation. The signs of FGCU’s rising stature are many.
- Out-of-state admission applications spiked 88% for 2013-14 and continue climbing; the number of non-Floridians applying for 2015-16 rose 21.8% from the year before.
- Overall, applications jumped 29.9% in 2013-14, dipped the following year and increased again by 5% for 2015-16.
- 2016-17 freshmen had an average 3.81 high school GPA — considerably higher than the 3.35 recorded by 2012-13 freshmen — and higher SAT and ACT scores, too.
- FGCU’s retention rate increased from 76% to 79%.
- Alumni-hosted March Madness watch parties in 2013 helped pave the way for the 2015 rollout of 10 alumni chapters in Florida and across the country.
- Alumni participation in FGCU fundraising leapt from 2.7% to 5.3%.
- The Alumni Association continues to deepen connections between 25,000 graduates and the university through new programs such as the Eagle Mentoring Program that provides career guidance for current students.
- In 2012-13, FGCU topped its fundraising goal of $12 million by $2 million. Fast forward to 2015-16, and the university surpassed its $18 million goal, ending the year with $33 million. In March 2016-17, with another quarter left in the fiscal year, $22 million has been donated.
- The $100 million campaign launched in 2014 will conclude this summer and has already reached $122 million.
- Since 2012-13, the FGCU Foundation has more than doubled the number of scholarships it awards to more than 1,400 so far in 2016-17 — and amped up the total awarded by 200%.
Brand in demand
- Wholesale sales of licensed merchandise soared 200% from calendar year 2012 to 2013 on the strength of March Madness the first half of the year. Sales skyrocketed 315% in the first quarter and 503% in the second.
- Annual sales have tapered slightly from 2013’s $1.2 million, but only fell by 10% the next year and ticked up 1% in 2015. In 2016, sales reached $1.2 million.
- FGCU Athletics also has expanded its scholarship program since 2013, increasing awards by 50% to $227,000 this year.
- Fundraising has already paid off in the form of a new video scoreboard that’s part of a $7 million project to expand and enhance Alico Arena.
- The Eagles Club, which helps fund scholarships, recruiting and special projects, has grown from about 200 members before 2013 to almost 600 today.
- The Dirty Birds — those vocal student boosters taunting visiting teams — started pre-Dunk City with about 800 members and have almost quadrupled the flock to 3,000.
- Attendance at men’s home basketball games more than doubled from 2012-13 to 75,598 this season.
- The perennially successful FGCU women’s basketball team averaged 1,775 fans at home this season but are drawing more than three times as many fans at home than they have played in front of on the road.
Clearly, Florida Gulf Coast University and Southwest Florida have much to be proud of when it comes to FGCU’s continuing development and growing stature. The success of Dunk City and FGCU Athletics — then and now — amplifies The FGCU Effect, the university’s inspirational power to transform lives.