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State receives $1 million grant to boost college completion
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Georgia is the recipient of a $1 million grant to implement Guided Pathways to Success, an education initiative designed to make college more affordable and boost college completion.

The goal is to provide all Georgia students in “high-demand degree programs” with Guided Pathways to Success, or a “GPS plan” designed by college advisers and faculty by 2016.

“The state’s Complete College Georgia initiative reinforces many of the student success practices we already employ at the University of North Georgia,” UNG President Bonita Jacobs wrote via email. “We are committed to practices that encourage students to complete their degree in a timely and cost-effective manner.”

Funding for the $1 million grant comes from the Lumina Foundation in partnership with Complete College America. The Lumina Foundation is a private group with the mission of increasing the number of Americans with “high-quality” degrees, certificates and credentials to 60 percent by 2025.

According to the Complete College America website, only 34 percent of students nationally graduate with a four-year bachelor’s degree on time. The report blames the low number on a variety of reasons, including earned credits that don’t apply to the college degree.

The report also laments college programs requiring too many credits.

“Too many institutions still require more than 120 credits for a bachelor’s degree, more than 60 credits for an associate degree and more than 30 credits for certificates,” it reads. “Just three more credits on average for bachelor’s degrees in the United States cost our country and its students an extra $1.5 billion a year.”

In institutions where the program has been implemented, higher overall graduation rates and more on-time graduation rates were reported. For example, at Georgia State University, graduation rates went up 20 percent in 10 years after implementing the degree maps and intrusive advising.

UNG has already implemented an intrusive advising program, described as a more proactive approach to guiding college students toward set college and career plans.

“We are going to work with all of our students within their first 30 credit hours,” said Sheila Caldwell, the director of Complete College Georgia for UNG. “We’re actually reaching out to the students and we are actually working with them one-on-one.”

Caldwell gave the example of a student who plans to major in nursing but can’t pass a chemistry class. That student would likely need to consider another path, whether it’s something else in health care or an entirely unrelated career.

“We may call that student in and say, ‘These are some other alternatives for you,’” she said. “Maybe in the health care field, or maybe they might choose to transfer. But just not letting that student take classes indefinitely when they’re not on track.”

The university also promotes a “15 to Finish” campaign; students are encouraged to take 15 credit hours every semester in order to graduate on time.

College officials have participated in a marketing campaign toward K-12 students to drill the “15 to Finish” rule in their minds. Caldwell said they’re encouraged to be “full-time students and part-time employees” if at all possible.

“What we have found is the longer students take to graduate, they’re more likely to be noncompleters,” Caldwell said. “They’re more likely to lose wages in the workforce they cannot recoup. They also are more likely to have increased college costs.”

UNG serves many students who are first-generation college attendees; this demographic may not have the support or background system to fall back on when it comes to charting their college paths, Caldwell said.

She added many students taking excess courses aren’t taking them out of enjoyment, but rather because they have no idea what they should be doing. Extra help to provide a clearer plan would help them get more out of the college experience, she said.

“I think with making that smart choice and actually choosing what career path you want to take, what college major you want to enroll in, it actually will free you up to make better choices that are going to truly enhance you and enhance your development,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell said she did not know how UNG would financially benefit from the $1 million grant, but said funds would be used to complement and reinforce the “15 to Finish” and advising programs. Lanier Technical College will not be one of the nine pilot programs in the Technical College System of Georgia, President Ray Perren said.

Complete College Georgia, part of the Complete College America initiative, projects more than 60 percent of Georgia jobs will require some sort of degree or certificate by 2020. Around 42 percent of the state’s young adults have that preparation, according to the University System of Georgia’s website.

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