At a large public university such as Georgia State, freshmen can feel overwhelmed by the size and scope of the campus and choices that they face. This fall, Georgia State is offering 90 majors and more than 3,00 courses. Freshmen Learning Communities are now required of all non-Honors freshmen at Georgia State. They organize the freshmen class into cohorts of 25 students arranged by common academic interests, otherwise known as “meta majors” (STEM, business, arts and humanities, policy, health, education and social sciences). Students travel through their classes together, building friendships, study partners and support along the way. Block schedules—FLCs in which all courses might be between, for example, 8:30 AM and 1:30 PM three days a week— accommodate students’ work schedules and help to improve class attendance. FLC students not only are retained but graduate at rates 4 points above those of non-FLC students. Almost 80% of this fall’s freshmen class are in FLCs. Requiring all students to choose a meta-major puts students on a path to degree that allows for flexibility in future specialization in a particular program of study, while also ensuring the applicability of early course credits to their final majors. Implemented in conjunction with major maps and a suite of faculty-led programming that exposes students to the differences between specific academic majors during their first semester, meta-majors provide clarity and direction in what would otherwise be a confusing and unstructured registration process.
Upon registration, all students are required to enroll in one of seven meta-majors: STEM, Arts & Humanities, Health, Education, Policy & Social Science, and Exploratory. Once students have selected their meta-major, they are given a choice of several block schedules, which are pre-populated course timetables including courses relevant to their first year of study. On the basis of their timetable selection, students are assigned to Freshman Learning Communities consisting of 25 students who are in the same meta-major and take classes according to the same block schedules of 5 – 6 courses in addition to GSU1010, a 1 credit hour course providing students with essential information and survival skills to help them navigate the logistical, academic, and social demands of the University. Academic department deliver programming to students—alumni panels, departmental open houses—that help students to understand the practical differences between majors within each meta major. A new career-related portal allows students in meta majors and beyond to explore live job data including number of jobs available in the Atlanta region, starting salaries, and correlative to majors and degree programs. The portal also suggests cognate careers that students may be unaware of and shared live job data about them.
48% FLC participation with opt-in model (2010)
Retention rates of 81% for non-FLC students (2011).
Average bachelor-degree graduate going through 2.4 majors before graduating (2008). In the 2013-2014 academic year, enrollment in a Freshman Learning Community according to meta-major resulted in an average increase in GPA of 8%.
In the 2013-2014 academic year, enrollment in a Freshman Learning Community by meta-major was found to increase a student’s likelihood of being retained through to the following year by 5%.
Interim Measures of Progress
Adopting an opt-out model has meant that over 80% of freshmen no participate in FLCs.
Measures of Success
One-year retention rates reached 84% for FLC freshmen (2015)
Changes in majors at GSDU are down by 32% since 2011.
Time is money, and students who switch between majors, especially after the freshman year, accumulate wasted credits. With large numbers of low-income students who have strictly limited resources, mistakes in choosing majors can equate to college attrition.
Meta-majors, block scheduling, and freshman learning communities have all been shown to significantly improve the chances of student success. GSU has introduced each of these approaches at different times in its history. Bringing each of these best practices together as part of an integrated admissions strategy has produced a synergy, with power greater than the sum of that of its parts.