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Board of Regents Ramp Up Efforts to Increase USG Student Success

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Atlanta — August 3, 2005

The Board of Regents today launched a year-long push to enhance the success of students as they progress toward graduation from University System of Georgia institutions.

Plans include expanding and implementing programs at Georgia’s public colleges and universities that will increase the University System’s retention and graduation rates. The board’s ultimate goal is to attain national performance levels in these two areas.

“There is widespread and growing concern about low graduation rates, both at the state and national levels,” said Dr. Daniel S. Papp, senior vice chancellor for Academics and Fiscal Affairs, who made a presentation to the board along with Dr. Frank A. Butler, vice chancellor for academics, faculty and student affairs. “With a collaborative approach that includes gaining a better understanding of what causes low graduation rates, we can improve out performance.”

Nationwide, an average of 54.3 percent of the full-time freshmen who entered college in 1997 graduated in 2003, Papp told the regents. The graduation rate for the University System of Georgia as a whole during that same six-year span was 50.3 percent, but the USG’s institution-specific rate trailed at 43.6 percent. The rate for all Georgia institutions – public and private – was 43.7 percent, ranking the state 42nd in the nation.

Papp’s presentation revealed disturbing gaps of up to 30 percent between the graduation rates of various genders and ethnicities. The reasons for students failing to stay in college, progress through the curriculum and graduate are complex and not yet well understood, Papp said. Among the many factors presumed to be at play are inadequate support after the freshman year, inadequate advising and mentoring, quality of teaching, economics, insufficient high-school preparation, student motivation and/or social and cultural factors.

Papp and Butler said the University System’s graduation rates have improved significantly in recent years – although not yet enough – thanks to heightened admissions standards and a strong focus on student retention. Last February, Chancellor Thomas C. Meredith appointed a task force to study the University System’s graduation rates and how to improve them. In October 2004, a committee began implementing the recommendations of this task force.

This fall, following a System-wide faculty/staff symposium on student retention, progression and graduation, the regents will ask USG campuses to submit target graduation rates and plans for achieving them. Members of the Board of Regents’ staff will review these submissions and provide feedback, and implementation of the plans will begin.

If $3.5 million in special funding is secured in the USG’s FY 2007 Budget, the regents also will invite USG institutions in Spring 2006 to submit competitive proposals for the enhancement of student retention, progression and graduation on their campuses. Awarded campuses will be able to implement their proposals by Fall 2006.

Other elements of the Retention, Progression, Graduation Initiative to be implemented at campuses throughout the University System during the next year include: pre-freshman contacts/orientation, freshman experience programs, learning communities, advising and mentoring, student progression tracking, mid-semester tracking of student progress, and mid-semester intervention for students found to be in trouble. A general education review, benchmarking, assessment and accountability measures also will be put in place.

“Our goal is to bring the University System’s institution-specific graduation rate [43.6 percent in 2003 for students who entered college in 1997] at least up to the national average [currently 54.3 percent] by 2010,” Papp said in concluding his portion of the presentation. “Over a longer term, we intend to become a national leader in graduation rates.”

Supplementing Papp’s and Butler’s presentation to the regents was a summary of a new study of graduation rates conducted by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). The summary was presented by Dr. Melanie McClellan, vice president for student services at the University of West Georgia, one of several USG administrators who assisted in the study.

AASCU examined the approaches to student success used by 12 public institutions – ranging from large research universities to much smaller historically black institutions – that have graduation rates that are either much higher than the national average in their category or much improved rates. AASCU probed each of the study participants for find out what policies, practices, circumstances, leadership or campus cultural features led to this level of student success.

McClellan said the study report, still in draft form, concludes that the most important factors for student success are: campus culture, administrative leadership, special programs such as the First-Year Experience and an institution’s location and policies.

“University leaders have a fundamental choice to make if they want to increase graduation rates,” McClelllan said, quoting the draft report’s conclusion. “On the one hand, they can take the traditional path of increasing selectivity, an option that will likely lead automatically to higher graduation rates.” However, suggesting that selectivity is contrary to the purpose of public institutions of higher education, the report adds that “the more courageous and difficult choice, which study institutions illustrate, is to succeed with the students we have.”

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