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Ga. rolls out plans to get more students graduating college

University of North Georgia proposes 5 goal areas

POSTED: September 10, 2012 11:36 p.m.

Plans are now in place to get more students graduating from colleges in Georgia.

Institutions in the University System of Georgia and Technical College System of Georgia have submitted documents to the state outlining how they will meet the goals of Complete College Georgia, an initiative launched by Gov. Nathan Deal in August 2011.

The state’s goal is to add 250,000 post-secondary graduates by 2020 in order to meet projected workforce needs. Some 42 percent of the state’s population holds such a degree, but 60 percent is needed in the next eight years, according to a study done last year by Georgetown University.

Gainesville State College and North Georgia College & State University submitted one plan as they will consolidate in January to form the University of North Georgia. That plan, according to a news release from the institutions, addresses five major strategies: improving college readiness through K-12 partnerships; expanding access and completion, particularly for underserved populations; reducing the time it takes to earn a college degree; developing new models of instruction and learning; and transforming remediation.

“North Georgia maintains the second-highest systemwide graduation and retention rate in the comprehensive university sector of the University System of Georgia,” said Al Panu, Gainesville State vice president for academic affairs, who will lead the implementation of the plan. “GSC ranks slightly above average in associate degree completion or matriculation to a baccalaureate program and is second in its sector for systemwide retention performance. It also has one of the system’s most successful transfer rates to comprehensive, regional and research universities in the state college sector.”

North Georgia had an almost 60 percent graduation rate in 2005, the latest numbers available on the university system’s website, for bachelor’s degrees within six years for full-time students. It was second to Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville, which had 70 percent graduating.

Gainesville State showed a 10 percent graduation rate in 2008 for associate degrees within three years for full-time students. The college was middle of the pack among institutions that offered the degree. Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College was first with almost 15 percent and Macon State College last with almost 3 percent.

The plan notes a few key themes that contributed to how the university developed its goals: Too many students come to college not academically prepared; at-risk populations need better preparation; many students, especially nontraditional and Hispanic students, accrue more hours than required; and financial reasons are a significant contributor to students dropping out.

The plan notes that nearly 37 percent of first-time students required remediation, according to 2007 consolidated data provided by the university system.

To tackle that problem, the college has proposed taking advantage of its education degree programs to reach those at risk of needing remediation in college, instituting a regional summit between K-12 and higher education representatives, working with schools to develop road maps for career concentrations that are already being developed for the K-12 system and developing summer programs to reach a variety of student groups.

The plan also proposes improving access for low-income students by providing the less-expensive associate degree programs and by carefully managing tuition and fees so that they do not exceed federal Pell grant limits.

The plan also calls for financial aid workshops and expanding alternative funding.

A 2010 phone survey by Gainesville State’s Advising Center found financial restrictions deterred students from returning. Students relying on the Pell grant have increased 95 percent, the plan notes. Data from 2009 shows that 96 percent of those who defaulted on their student loans had withdrawn from the college, and 72 percent of those defaulting were freshmen.

To reach underserved students, the college proposes actively recruiting them by focusing on their needs in marketing materials and initiatives. The college also plans to develop a diversity plan and will work to have the student population representative of national demographics.

Full-time baccalaureate-degree-seeking students are averaging 136.42 hours, more than necessary to get a degree. Hispanic and adult learners even surpass that average. Tackling that problem includes publishing a guaranteed three-year evening course schedule and more early intervention, among other things.

More focus on online instruction, supplemental instruction as well as research, service-learning and study abroad opportunities is also part of the plan.

To transform remediation at the consolidated college, the plan proposes eliminating the COMPASS exit exam, which is sometimes the only barrier to a student moving forward after a course. The plan also includes a summer program to help reduce the need for remediation as well as offering short-term refresher courses targeted at adult learners.

Implementation will involve designating leaders within different units of the institution to be responsible for certain activities in the plan.

The Office of University Affairs will be responsible for the overall plan.

According to a news release from the governor’s office, statewide, the initiative looks at three key areas: keeping Georgia competitive in producing an educated workforce; ensuring academic quality; and providing the opportunity of higher education and supporting student success through effective use of resources.


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