There is plenty of evidence to support the claim that students who complete their college education have a far better chance of succeeding in their careers and lives—more so than their peers who do not finish. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports students who graduate with a two- or four-year degree can expect to earn up to 70 percent more than those who complete only a high school diploma. To help facilitate student success, higher education must be proactive in their approach to ensure that students from all backgrounds are entering, effectively navigating, and successfully exiting the post-secondary education system.
Following Georgia State University’s Lead
If you are looking for an example of a school committed to demonstrating actions college leaders can take on their campus to support student success and completion, look no further than Georgia State University (GSU). They aren’t sitting around hoping success happens; they’re making it happen with peer advising, micro-grants that help low-income students afford to continue their education, and analytics that help advisers identify students at risk of dropping out. They have also partnered with Portfolium to give their students even more of an advantage when it comes to showcasing their work, connecting with alumni, and networking with over 3,000 companies.
How is GSU successful in proactively supporting student success? Primarily by using its student-data warehouse to identify clear barriers to student progression and graduation, and attacking them systematically. The administration has created an organizational structure to facilitate this process, combining several critical functions (financial aid, academic support and advising, student accounts, admissions, and the registrar) under one vice provost. This structure—along with the full backing of both senior administrators and the university senate—has nurtured the development of a deliberate cycle of piloting innovative responses to identified barriers, testing their efficacy, and rapidly scaling them up if there is evidence of effectiveness. Over the last decade, GSU has increased its completion rate by 22 percentage points. And it has no plans on slowing down.
Additionally, GSU has partnered with University Innovation Alliance (UIA) and has won nearly $9 million in funds through the First in the World Initiative. GSU’s predictive analytics and proactive advising programs have already helped increase its semester-to-semester retention rates by five percent and reduce time-to-degree by almost half a semester. And the school plans to continue improving their completion rates (especially among low-income students). Interestingly, the UIA estimates that if all of its schools have success proportional to Georgia State's, the institutions could produce 61,000 additional graduates in the next five years.
The Motivation for Greater College Completion
As with anything related to education, in order for there to be real and sustained progress, all parties—students, institutions, states, and the federal government—must take responsibility for their roles. Because when more students are graduating with degrees, it not only changes the lives of the students, but it also strengthens the economic security of our country.