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Innovation and Incubator Grants from the University System of Georgia

Accelerated Core Curriculum: Expanding Student Success (ACCESS)

University of West Georgia


Grant Type: 
Project Lead: 
Denise Overfield
Associate Dean College of Arts and Humanities
Other team members: 
  • Scott Gordon,Associate Dean College of Science and Mathematics, University of West Georgia, 678.839.4134
  • Amber Smallwood, Associate Dean, College of Social Sciences, University of West Georgia,, 678.839.5170
  • Cher Hendricks, Director, Center for Teaching and Learning, University of West Georgia,, 678.839.5230
Project Overview: 

The purpose of this project is to study the effectiveness of structured scheduling on student achievement, retention, and progression (RPG}. Two freshman cohorts (one pursuing a 120-hour B.A. degree and the other pursuing a 132-hour B.F.A degree} will take courses during Fall 2014 and Spring 2015 under a modified schedule, allowing B.A. students to complete 30 course credits and B.F.A. students to complete 36. Courses will be scheduled to allow students to complete more credits per semester, thus saving them time and money as they complete their degrees.

Project Description: 

Impact on Completion:

UWG has a six-year graduation rate of 42%. Structured scheduling provides the predictability and support students need to complete coursework while taking more credit hours, thus improving progress toward graduation. Students who participate in this program will be on track to graduate within four years.

Potential Lessons Learned:

This project will allow us to examine the effectiveness of structured scheduling across two programs that differ in terms of content and program hours. This has the potential to provide data about how to modify structured scheduling across various programs, increasing our ability to scale-up structured scheduling across the university.

Concept Description

Area of Need. With a 42% six-year graduation rate, there is a great need for the University of West Georgia to address the retention, progression, and graduation (RPG) rates of our students. Structured scheduling is a best practice described Complete College America's The
Game Changers {2013) that can provide the structure and support students need to successfully complete coursework while increasing the number of hours taken.

At UWG, students pursuing a Bachelor of Arts {B.A.) degree must successfully complete 120 hours to graduate, and students pursuing a Bachelors of Fine Arts (B.F.A.) must complete 132. With our average freshman student attempting about 14 semester hours per term but earning just 12.5, it can take a B.A. student almost five years to complete a degree program and 5.5 years for a B.F.A. student, assuming the student is able to continue to take a full course load each semester. This becomes increasingly difficult for students for several reasons. First, when students are unable to complete 30 hours per year and make progress toward completing the core, they may not meet prerequisites for other courses, putting them even further behind.

Second, a large percentage of UWG students must work full- or part-time jobs to support themselves, making it difficult to maintain full-time status.

Currently, UWG's overall freshman retention rate is just under 71%, which decreases to 55% at the end of the second year and 48% at the end of the third. Freshman retention rates for students in the B.A. and B.F.A. program is slightly lower than the institutional rate. The 4-, 5-, and 6-year graduation rates for each degree program are provided in Figure 1in the Appendix.

The ACCESS program is one strategy that can address UWG's challenges with RPG. The program places students in a structured schedule format that enables them to increase the average number of credit hours they take in their freshman year, thus putting them on track to graduate in four years. Students in the B.A. program earn 30 hours their first two semesters, and students in the B.F.A. program earn 36, which makes it possible for art students to complete their programs in four years rather than five or more.

Impact on Student Success. Structured scheduling has been found to be successful at several institutions, including the City University of New York {CUNY), The University of Montana Western, and technical colleges in Texas and Tennessee {Complete College America, 20131 . In fact, graduation rates for students in the structured scheduling program at CUNY are three times the national average. Increasing credit hours taken has also been shown to increase student success. For instance, students in the University of Hawaii system who took 15 or more credit hours performed better than those who took less than 15 credits across nearly all levels of academic preparation according to an analysis of first-time students attending UH's two- and four-year campuses from fall 2009 to fall 2011.

Structured scheduling provides the predictability and support students need to successfully complete coursework and steadily progress toward graduation, and we believe that combining two strategies-using structured scheduling and encouraging students to take 15 or more credit hours per semester--can increase freshman retention, progression, and ultimately on­ time graduation. In this initial study, the ACCESS program has the potential to impact two cohorts of first-year students-24 who are pursuing B.A. degrees and 20 pursuing a B.F.A. These students will be on track to graduate within four years. Results from this project will be used to plan structured scheduling scale-up projects that will impact a greater number of students across other degree programs.

There are several benefits to structured scheduling. For example, in addition to putting
students on the path to on-time completion, structured scheduling encourages student cohorts to develop. As explained in College America's The Game Changers (2013),

When students in the same program of study move from course to course on the sameschedule ...working groups and learning communities of students commonly form. Theseinformal alliances provide vital student-to-student support and a strong sense ofconnectedness tofaculty and institutions. (p. 18)

Another benefit of structured scheduling is providing a predictable schedule that fits working students' schedules. In the ACCESS program, B.A. students will attend classes from 8:00 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. This increases the opportunity for students to attend school full-time while holding a job. It also provides students with large blocks of time to study or get remedial help when needed. For B.F.A students, the scheduling will give them extended blocks of time during which they will be able to focus on the studio work that is essential to their success. Structured scheduling also makes it easier to create efficient ways for students to increase the number of credit hours they take in a semester.

ACCESS will provide the structure and peer support that will help students succeed in their first two semesters at UWG, even as they take an increased number of credit hours. At the end of their freshman year, students will be on track for graduating in four years, increasing the likelihood that they will return their sophomore year and maintain a full-time schedule.

Potential Lessons Learned. This project will allow us to examine the effectiveness of structured scheduling across two programs that differ in terms of content and program hours, as well as examine the effects of an increased credit hour load. This will provide data about how to modify structured scheduling while simultaneously supporting students as they take more credit hours across various programs, increasing our ability to scale up structured scheduling across the university. Our goal is to create a sustainable approach that can become part of the university culture. One way we will accomplish this is to establish a learning community of
faculty and administrators (FLC) who are connected to the program as either instructors or program coordinators. This FLC will review institutional RPG data specific to B.A. and B.F.A. students, discuss ways to make cross-disciplinary connections across courses, and investigate other high impact practices that can lead to student success. The FLC will also hold a conference for UWG and USG faculty and administrators to examine supports and barriers to the use of structured scheduling. The purpose of this conference will be to facilitate the development of structured scheduling scale-up plans for UWG and other USG institutions.

Complete College America (2013). The Game Changers. Washington, DC: Author.
Data available on University of Hawaii's Fifteen to Finish website (


Project Plan


Project Goals, Objectives, and Deliverables. The primary goals of ACCESS are (1) to increase the numbers of hours students complete during their first year, which will positively impact their retention, progression, and graduation, (2) to support faculty and administrators in their planning, implementation, and evaluation of the structured schedule format, and (3) facilitate a USG-wide conference on increasing RPG by using structured scheduling to increase the number of credit hours that first year students take. Objectives and deliverables aligned with these goals are provided in Table 2.





Goal 1

Increase hours earned and retention of students in structured scheduling cohort

80% of ACCESS students earning target hours (30 B.A.,36 B.f .A.). 80% ACCESS retention rate

Reports of credits earned, Spring 2015 retention, and intent to enroll for Fall 2015

Goal 2

Support faculty and administrators in collaborative planning for structured scheduling instruction and research on effectiveness

100% participation in FLC by teaching faculty
80% participation in classroom based SoTL projects

Report of perceived usefulness and efficacy of the FLC on course planning and implementation. 
Faculty SoTL reports

Goal 3

Scale-up structured scheduling at UWG and other USG institutions

Plan/deliver structured scheduling conference
Create UWG structured scheduling scale-up

Conference planned and implemented
Campus plan for structured

Structured Scheduling. One group of 24 students seeking a B.A. degree and a second group of 20 students in the B.F.A. program will take part in ACCESS . Each group will make up a cohort of students who progress together through their first-year courses under a block schedule model. In the B.A. cohort, students will complete 30 hours during Fall 2014 and Spring 2015, which is 6 hours more than the typical full-time UWG freshman completes. In the B.F.A. cohort, students will complete 36 hours, allowing them to complete their first-year courses in two semesters rather than three .The structured schedules for each program are illustrated in Table 3, which can be found in the appendix.

Faculty Development. A unique aspect of this project is its emphasis on faculty development . This grant will be used to support faculty who are teaching courses, as well as administrative program coordinators, in the structured schedule format. UWG's Center for Teaching and Learning will facilitate this work through a faculty learning community (FLC) of administrators and ACCESS instructors from Colleges of Social Science, Science and Mathematics, and Arts and Humanities. Beginning in the Summer of 2014, the ACCESS FLC will meet to review current RPG data for B.A. and B.F.A. students, discuss best practices in course design for block scheduling, investigate ways to increase student engagement, and evaluate methods for supporting students in the cohort model. Faculty will also be guided through a scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) process to identify an area of research related to the teaching of their ACCESS course. The FLC will continue to meet during the fall and spring semesters to discuss their projects and their findings. Results of these SoTL projects, along with data on students' academic achievement and retention, will be valuable for understanding the effectiveness of the ACCESS model and for planning for scale-up at UWG and beyond. The FLC will also plan and facilitate a conference on structured scheduling for UWG and other USG faculty and administrators. As described earlier, at this conference faculty across the system will discuss their experiences with structured scheduling as well as barriers and supports for implementation. Participants will create and/or refine structured scheduling plans-either initial, pilot plans or scale-up plans-for their departments or institutions.

Project Timeline. The project timeline provided in Figure 2 includes activities of the FLC, structured scheduling implementation, and project evaluation. The FLC will meet in Summer 2014 for initial planning and then meet monthly through Fall 2014, Spring 2015, and early Summer 2015. Throughout fall and spring, FLC members will discuss student progress in courses and review data from SoTL projects to gauge student success. In May, the FLC will review institutional data on ACCESS students' success compared to a matched group of similar peers. In June the FLC will plan the structured scheduling workshop (target date: Fall 2015, which is after the funding period ends. The Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning will facilitate this work).

td colspan="4" valign="top" bgcolor="#E8E8E8">

B.A./B.F.A Cohort Spring block schedule implementation

Summer 2014

Fall 2014

Spring 2015














FLC reviews RPG data

FLC plans SoTL projects

FLC meets

FLC meets

FLC meets


FLC meets

FLC meets

FLC meets

FLC meets

FLC reviews student data and results of SoTL projects
FLC plans workshop (June)


FLC reviews best practices

Faculty teaching Fall Courses engage in SoTL projects

Faculty teaching Fall Courses engage in SoTL projects

Student advisement

B.A./B.F.A Cohort Fall block schedule implementation


Develop surveys for students and FLC participants

Student survey


Student survey


Logic Model


The logic model provided in Figure 3 illustrates program inputs and outputs, activities, and short- and long-term program outcomes.

Figure. 3. ACCESS Logic Model




Short-term Outcomes

Long-term Outcomes

  • Students
  • Faculty
  • Admin
  • Advisors
  • Center for Teaching & Learning


  • Student advising
  • Structured schedule
  • Faculty FLC
  • Structured scheduling conference


  • 44 students
  • on track for on-time graduation
  • 10 faculty engaged in FLC and SoTL


  • Increased student retention and progression
  • Increased faculty engagement
  • On-time graduation
  • Large scale implementation of structured scheduling across programs



Project Budget and Evaluation Plan


The project budget will be used to support the work of the Faculty Learning Community as they engage in course and program planning for the year. Because FLC faculty members will spend a significant amount of time during the summers reviewing data, planning courses and SoTL projects, analyzing results, and conference planning, they will receive summer stipends of $1000 for each summer session (administrators will not receive a stipend). Other funds will be used to buy books the FLC will use to support their SoTL projects, scale-up plan, and conference planning (see Table 4). Funds will also support the 4 project leaders' travel to the USG Teaching and Learning Conference where they will present preliminary results.

Table 4. ACCESS Project Budget

Budget Item


Participant Support Costs


Stipends for FLC Faculty Summer 2014 (10@$1000)


Stipends for FLC Faculty Summer 2015 (10@$1000)


Travel to USG Teaching & Learning Conference (4@$650)


Other Direct Costs


FLC Book (Engaging in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning) (15@ $25)


FLC Book (Completing College: Rethinking Institutional Action) (15@ $40)




Evaluation. The faculty and administrators who are part of the FLC, as well as the Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning,will conduct the program evaluation. To reduce bias by these internal stakeholders, external groups, including the CTL Advisory Board and the Office of Institutional Research and Planning, will discuss and analyze the data collaboratively, and
external groups will review the results. Evaluation goals and data collection strategies are provided in Table 5. The Conference on Structured Scheduling will occur after the project budget period, as will data collection and analysis associated with the conference itself.

Program Element

Program Outcomes Data Collection Stategies

Structured Scheduling


Completionof 30 (B.A.) or 36(B.F.A.) hours during first year. Banner reports on hours attempted/completed, retention in Spring 2015.
Increased retention and progression

Student survey on effectiveness of structured scheduling, areas of improvement, and intention to enroll Sophomore year.




Faculty Learning Community



Collaborative planning of courses Surveys of FLC member about effectiveness of FLC model and SoTL process

SoTLprojects focused on student achievement

Analysis of SoTL projects and their effects on student learning

  FLC agendas from conference planning meetings




Structured Scheduling Conference


Conference plan/agenda UWG scale-up plan
Facilitation of UWG scale-up plan Workshop evaluation completed by attendees