Tim Renick A2C

Georgia State University: Real results for improved student success

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Everyone wants to know what’s in the water at Georgia State University.

Located on an urban campus in downtown Atlanta, Georgia State enrolls more than 32,000 students, 89 percent of whom receive need-based financial aid and 60 percent of whom are ethnic minorities. Many GSU students juggle work and school, and even more are first-generation college students.

Yet despite the challenges of being a large, often “under-resourced” research university with a historically “at risk” student body, GSU’s graduation rate has risen 22 percent in the past 11 years, and the university conferred 30 percent more degrees in the 2014-2015 school year than it did in 2008-2009. The university has even eliminated the pervasive achievement gap between ethnic populations, conferring 123 percent more degrees to Hispanics, and 82 percent more to African Americans than it did in 2011.

So what’s the secret to Georgia State’s success? The university’s programs work because they are just as modern as the university’s student body itself, says Dr. Tim Renick, Vice Provost and Vice President for Enrollment Management & Student Success.

One such modern approach is the university’s use of predictive analytics and historical student data to help improve outcomes. For example, the university combed through 2.5 million former GSU students’ grades and discovered that a student’s performance in lower-level major courses is a strong indicator of their degree progression and completion rate.

Now when a political science major gets a C, D, or F in their first major course, the system triggers a meeting between the student and his or her academic advisor to discuss what went wrong, or to connect the student to supplemental instruction.

“At large public universities that aren’t particularly well-resourced, like Georgia State, [students] typically haven’t gotten that kind of attention. We’re finding that the change to give them that kind of support is making a big, big difference,” Renick said. “But the reality is that, even with the best intentions, Georgia State couldn’t have done this five or six years ago. We need the big data and the analytics platforms to allow us to do this.”

Although some university stakeholders were initially wary of these completion initiatives, those fears have been allayed with time, Renick said.

“The biggest misconception out there is that this completion agenda is a move toward dumbing down higher education so more students can graduate. And I think it’s the opposite,” he said. “It’s providing, for the first time, the opportunity for at-risk students to do real college work and succeed in areas where, perhaps, they didn’t have the chance in the past.”

Despite Georgia State’s astonishing improvements within the past 10 years, Renick knows there is still much work to be done. As the university delves further into advancing student success, they realize that they may have misunderstood the importance and interconnectedness of some success factors, like student course access.

“You can’t have one side of the university telling students you must sign up for this section of chemistry this semester, and on the other hand, have the other side of the university not offering those seats,” he said.

To improve course access, the university has established a Strategic Scheduling Committee, implemented a clock calendar with peak caps, and partnered with Ad Astra Information Systems.

“We’re working hard at Georgia State to see if we can model a different way of interacting with students and making our campus more student friendly,” Renick said.

Renick believes all universities can implement similar data-driven student success initiatives, regardless of demographic or pedagogic differences.

“Ultimately, as universities become more adept at using data and analytics, they’re going to find that there’s a convergence of some of the issues that campuses are facing,” he said. “Very different campuses, very different student populations, but all of us are going to have to figure out how to properly advise students and provide the seats and opportunities for students to actually progress through their programs in a timely fashion.”

GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY BY THE NUMBERS:

–  32,000+ students (38 percent White, 38 percent African American, 13 percent Asian, 9 percent Hispanic)
– 89 percent of undergraduates receive need-based financial aid
– Ranks in the Top 15 in the Nation for both Pell Population and Diversity (U.S. News & World Report, 2015)

Cook

About The Author

Emily Cook

Emily Cook is the marketing and communications specialist at Ad Astra Information Systems. Prior to joining Ad Astra, Emily worked as a print journalist covering K-12 and higher education issues at multiple news organizations including USA TODAY, The Fort Myers News-Press, and the Cape Cod Times.