Few colleges have a better success story to tell than Georgia State University. With about 60% of students qualifying for federal Pell Grants and 80% non-white, the four-year university in Atlanta has bucked national trends over the past decade, dramatically boosting graduation rates and closing achievement gaps.
Through the National Institute for Student Success (NISS), Georgia State is helping colleges and universities across the country address institutional barriers to equity and college completion. It shows the schools how to increase capacity through technology and data to improve student outcomes by delivering proactive personalized attention.
This year, the Detroit Drives Degrees Community College Collaborative brought NISS to Detroit to work with local community colleges. As a result, six have completed a diagnostic assessment and received a detailed “play book” customized to their institution on how to improve retention and graduation rates, with an emphasis on under-represented student groups. Michigan community colleges will continue working with NISS through D3C3 to maximize and implement their individualized play books.
NISS founder and director Dr. Tim Renick recently interviewed with the Detroiter. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Describe how Georgia State University achieved its success.
The Georgia State story is about how we can deliver personalized attention to students on a day-to-day basis and do it for a reasonable cost. And we’ve done it by leveraging new technologies – artificial intelligence, data, and predictive analytics. And we’re now able to notice when a student gets off track. Not six months after they get off track, but sometimes within a few hours, and reach out and get them back on track. We’re delivering personalized attention to students at scale by leveraging new technology and data-based approaches. The effects have been transformative.
Where did corporate partners play a key role?
The corporations in the Atlanta area have helped us with that initial investment (that community colleges often lack the resources to make). It doesn’t have to be for five or 10 years. It can be for two or three years to get us jump started, to the point where our numbers have increased. We’re graduating 3,500 more students at Georgia State every year than we were 10 years ago. That’s 3,500 more students whose tuition was walking away from the university, now staying with us for multiple years and contributing to our fiscal health.
Is there a takeaway for Michigan?
It’s particularly important in Michigan because the demographics – the number of high school graduates is going down. Michigan is a richly populated state with post-secondary institutions. If these institutions are going to survive, they’re going to have to hold on to more of the students they enroll, rather than assuming they can just admit more students every year. That’s also, what the Detroit and Michigan economy needs, because the state needs a higher percentage of skilled workers, a higher percentage of the population, especially from diverse backgrounds, who have bachelor’s degrees or associate degrees, or other sorts of quality post-secondary credentials. The two needs go hand in hand.
What else should business understand about the role?
Understand for your own self-interest where you’ll make the biggest difference. Those students who tend to be top 10 in their class and from wealthier families who go to Ann Arbor, they’re going to be just fine once they graduate from college because they’re going to have the connections and their parents were likely professionals and certainly college graduates. What’s going to change the economy of the Detroit Metro area is taking students from families who currently aren’t contributing in the same way to the economy and moving them into that space. That’s where the community colleges are so critical.
Anything else you would like to add?
The students who go to these institutions will not likely complete all their post-secondary studies at that particular institution. And that’s not necessarily a failing of community colleges. This is part of the reality of what higher ed is today, especially for low-income students who tend to be much more transient than their middle- and upper-income counterparts. They move around and switch institutions a lot more. So, we need to think of ways in which we can support students at this phase of their studies so that they can be successful.