GSW awarded grant to improve student retention

Georgia Southwestern State University (GSW) was awarded a $24,050 grant from the University System of Georgia (USG) for a project aimed at improving student retention. Georgia Southwestern TMs proposal was one of only nine funded out of 28 submitted and will begin in Fall 2013. It is part of the Complete College Georgia (CCG) initiative focusing on innovative practices to retain students and add postsecondary graduates to the Georgia workforce.

The University System requested proposals in one of two categories: 1) Proof-of-Concept or Start-up and 2) Planning for Success in Gateway Courses. Georgia Southwestern TMs plan was submitted in category one. Criteria for selection included the potential for high impact on college completion as well as the potential to replicate or scale the project across the campus and to other institutions.

Georgia Southwestern TMs project development team was led by Helen Tate, Ph.D., associate vice president for Academic Affairs and Kelly McCoy, Ph.D., dean of Arts and Sciences. Other team members included Brian Adler, Ph.D., vice president for Academic Affairs; Linda Randall, first year advocate; Talisha Lawson, retention specialist; and Karen Jansen, academic resource specialist. McCoy said GSW TMs proposal was derived from CCG efforts already taking place on campus.

At the CCG Summit in February, the USG announced that there would be some funding available to initiate projects related to the Complete College Georgia initiative, said McCoy. All of the actions in Project Storm Spotter were already part of our CCG plan. Dr. Tate and I put these actions together into one cohesive plan. We think it is especially innovative and useful because it will not only allow us to identify and address the needs of individual students, but it will provide broader data on retention issues and allow us to develop campus-wide plans to address these issues.

Part one of Project Storm Spotter is to administer a College Persistence Questionnaire (CPQ) to all incoming freshman " beginning Fall 2013 " through the freshman orientation course. Each student will be given CPQ results, a success plan solely based on his or her results, and peer mentoring and resource support. Over the following three years, aggregated data will be collected to develop data-driven strategies to improve retention.

We believe we have a workable model that will not only provide the institution with valuable information to support our strategic efforts, Tate said, but one that can also serve as a model for other institutions. If successful, these efforts should pay for themselves in increased retention and thus tuition revenue. Having the seed funding to get our efforts off the ground is very encouraging. We were very pleased to learn the USG was serious about providing support for our CCG efforts.

Historically, the College Persistence Questionnaire has been found to be a valuable tool for predicting retention. The CPQ will be administered roughly six weeks into the fall semester with the help of peer mentors known as Storm Spotters. Storm Spotters are classified as successful upper-class students who serve as co-instructors for the freshman orientation classes. They will play an important role in connecting the students to helpful resources.

In terms of lessons to be learned, the reasons why students leave are most important to GSW. The USG is most concerned with better information about the at-risk student demographic, which could help other institutions. The fall-to-fall retention goal for GSW TMs Fall 2013 cohort is a three percent increase.

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