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Innovation and Incubator Grants from the University System of Georgia

Pathways to Purpose

Georgia Southern University


Grant Type: 
Project Lead: 
Dr. Christine Ludowise
Interim Vice Provost (Georgia Southern)
Other team members: 

Project Team:

Dr. Becky da Cruz
Interim Associate Provost (ASU)
Becky.daCruz@armstrong. edu

Dr. Martha Abell
Dean, College of Science & Mathematics (GS)

Dr. Mark Taylor
Director, Academic Advising & Support (ASU)

Dr.Cathy Roberts-Cooper
Director, Academic Success Center (GS)

Ms. Holley Camacho
Associate Director, Assessment & Analytics (GS)

Ms. Lisa Sapp
Academic Advising Coordinator, College of Business (GS)

Ms. Laura Pallini
Senior Academic Advisor (ASU)

Ms. Rolinda Cary
Liberty Center Academic Advisor (ASU)

Ms.Caysi Warren
College of Liberal Arts & Socia l Sciences Academic Advisor (GS)

Ms. Audra Taylor,Academic Advisor (ASU)

Project Description: 

Our institution has been challenged to create a holistic structure that incorporates all components of the Momentum Year. We have identified a population that we believe we are currently under-serving in relation to best practices in student success. The new Georgia Southern University will move our "undeclared" students to "exploratory" students with academic focus areas, building upon our current practices utilizing guided pathways to completion.

At the start of the Fall 2017 semester, there were 212 students identified as "undeclared" on  the Armstrong campus and 610 "undeclared" students on the Statesboro campus. While this number represents a small percentage of the new institution's students (3.4%), it represents a group of students that may be at risk of attrition due to unclear expectations and failure to  thrive at the institution.  Research indicates that students at USG institutions who do not make  a program choice in their first year graduate at lower rates than students who have declared a major or focus area. An additional area of concern is our institutional transfer-out rate, which is significantly higher than comparable institutions in both our sector and classification.

Through proactive advising and First-Year Experience programs, our "undeclared" students currently "test drive" majors and discipline aptitudes through a structured approach. This project will require us to be more deliberate in providing both "exploratory" and major­ declared students with a clear path to meeting their academic and professional goals.

We will use the curriculum processes currently underway with our consolidation as a springboard. Undergraduate committee chairs, with support of their Provost's Offices, have focused program faculty on articulating clear pathways to completion for each degree program offered  by the new institution.

In January 2018, we will charge College teams with mapping the newly structured majors and degree programs to academic focus areas, as well as ensuring that there are clearly sequenced pathways to degree completion for all degree programs offered by the University. College team members will include academic advisors, faculty, department chairs, and deans.

An important element of the mapping process will be clearly identifying at least nine hours (3 classes) in each major and academic focus area that students should complete in their first year of enrollment.  Additionally,  it will be incumbent upon us  to:

  1. add milestones or benchmarks that are major/discipline specific to all degree program and academic focus area pathways;
  2. create opportunities for all students to "unpack" and "test drive" their major and related disciplines;
  3. articulate alternative academic paths, when necessary, to help students achieve their career goals;
  4. require students to opt out of taking the targeted courses in their academic focus area, rather than asking them to opt  in;
  5. require students to opt out of taking fifteen hours (15) per semester, rather than asking them to opt in;
  6. provide structured support for career and major exploration;  and
  7. create clear scripts for advisors and faculty to help them talk to students about
    1. how courses  relate to their chosen  major or academic  focus area;  and
    2. how upper division courses will scaffold upon the foundational courses.

The development and mapping process will be completed by May 2018, in anticipation of full implementation at the start of the Fall 2018 term.  Over the summer, we will work with the  Office of Admissions, FYE, and academic advisors to assist "exploratory" students with choosing their academic focus area or major. We will also update our reporting structures to track students by CIP codes, allowing us to better anticipate resource and support services needs for students and to schedule courses more effectively.

In order to capitalize on clear academic pathways, we will need to tie those pathways to more clear professional opportunity pathways.  Therefore, we will provide structured support for  major and career exploration on our three campuses. In Fall 2017, the Statesboro campus established a Major and Career Exploration Center. The Center is a collaboration between First­ Year Experience and Career Services and employs peers to help students explore both majors and careers through a variety of structured exercises and activities, depending on how much time the student can devote. We plan to replicate the Major and Career Exploration Center on the Armstrong campus for Fall 2018 and create a major and career resource room at the Liberty campus. Students will continue to be introduced to major and career exploration at orientation and in our first-year experience courses. Establishing additional major and career exploration opportunities will require us to identify appropriate spaces, develop additional structured activities and exercises, and hire and train peer mentors. We would apply the funding from our Momentum Year Grant to creating and equipping the Armstrong and Liberty major and career exploration spaces.

We anticipate the impact on our "exploratory" student population to be higher engagement rates, easier paths to declaring a major, increased confidence, and greater persistence at the University. In addition, because we plan to improve pathways for our declared majors, as well as our "exploratory" students, we anticipate increases in first-year retention rates, sophomore to junior persistence rates, and graduation rates with concurrent decreases in our transfer-out rate. Our initial goal is to increase our first-year retention rate to 82%, by Fall 2019, and increase both our second and third year persistence rates to 70% by Fall 2021. Our long term goal is to significantly move the needle on our four-year and six-year graduation rates.

Our plan is sustainable, transformative, and scalable. If every Institution in the USG more clearly articulates paths for students to meet their academic and professional goals - and provides structured and deliberate support for major and career exploration - the state will reach its Complete College Georgia goal of increasing the percentage of state residents with post-secondary credentials to sixty (60) percent by 2025. Most of the plan for the new Georgia Southern University requires very little additional funding and can be replicated across all sectors of institutions in the USG. This approach has the potential to fundamentally change the climate and culture of higher education in Georgia.


Armstrong State University - Retention and Graduation Data*

Undergraduate enrollment: 6,331 First-year retention rate: 74.2%

(Fall 2015 to Fall 2016)

Four-year graduation rate: 12.8%

(Fall 2010 cohort)

Six-year graduation rate: 30.7%

(Fall 2010 cohort)

*source = 2016 Factbook

Georgia Southern University - Retention and Graduation Data*

Undergraduate enrollment: 17,579 First-year retention rate: 81.0%

(Fall 2015 to Fall 2016)

Four-year graduation rate: 28%

(Fall 2010 cohort)

Six-year graduation rate: 51%

(Fall 2010 cohort)

*source = Factbook 2017-18

New Georgia Southern University - Combined Data*

Undergraduate emollment: 23,910 First-year retention rate: 79.2%

(Fall 2015 to Fall 2016)

Four-year graduation rate: 24%

(Fall 2010 cohort)

Six-year graduation rate: 45.6%

(Fall 2010 cohort)

*if institutions were consolidated Fall 2016