Building a Pathway to Student Success at Georgia State University
Published April 23, 2015
Georgia State University (GSU) has traditionally attracted large numbers of students with limited means and whose other priorities, such as work and family, compete with paying for college. For years, it graduated less than a third of its students; underrepresented minorities and other traditionally underserved students had even lower rates of success. Over the past decade, however, GSU has dramatically improved its six-year graduation rates and increased student retention.
"Building a Pathway to Student Success at Georgia State University," looks at how GSU achieved these results. What we found surprised us. GSU's achievements are not the byproduct of one large, sweeping, program. Rather, they represent the accumulated impact of more than a dozen relatively modest projects across the university, many of which we describe in some detail in this case study.
GSU 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. Repeated, successful implementation of this problem-solving process to address the “low-hanging fruit” has both yielded impressive aggregate improvement in GSU student outcomes and given GSU’s administration and faculty the confidence to tackle bigger and less tractable problems. In addition to their impact on student outcomes, many of these initiatives have reduced administrative burdens and increased revenues.
While the exact steps taken at GSU are particular to its circumstances, we believe that GSU’s problem-solving approach may well be replicable elsewhere. We are eager to learn of successful initiatives at other institutions and invite you to share examples through our blog.
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For more than a decade, Georgia State University has focused intensively on improving the retention and graduation rates of students with long odds of succeeding. The results of this effort are truly remarkable.
Between 2003 and 2014, GSU’s six-year graduation rate increased by nearly 70 percent, from 32 percent to 54 percent. During the same period, the share of its undergraduate population eligible for Pell grants has increased by nearly 90 percent, from 31 percent to 58 percent.
This dramatic improvement has attracted attention and plaudits from other institutions, funders, researchers, and the White House. Various commentators have identified various silver bullets. But there is no silver bullet.
In the latest addition to Ithaka S+R’s series of case studies in educational transformation—Building a Pathway to Student Success at Georgia State University—Derek Wu and I explore how GSU has achieved these impressive gains.
We learned that GSU’s achievements are not the byproduct of one large, sweeping program. Rather, they represent the accumulated impact of more than a dozen relatively modest initiatives, many of which we describe in this case study.
These initiatives are the products of a systematic problem-solving process. GSU has closely analyzed the obstacles that stand in the way of student success, and has chipped away at those obstacles by testing and scaling innovative, but focused, solutions. Through this process, it has steadily increased the probability that its students move forward and graduate.
While the exact steps taken at GSU are particular to its circumstances, we believe that GSU’s problem-solving approach may well be replicable elsewhere.
Over the past few weeks, there has been an interesting set of discussions about whether the Liberian part of the Ebola outbreak this winter was foretold and therefore could have been stopped earlier. Writing an op-ed in the New York Times, several researchers noted that they recently “stumbled across” an article indicating the reasonable likelihood that Liberia would be faced with cases of Ebola, which turned out to have been one of several studies predicting Liberia being in the zone of likely exposure for the virus. Public health officials had not acted on this known likelihood. The question is why.
These authors focused on the fact that the study in question was conducted by Europeans rather than in partnership with Liberians, limiting its ability to be discovered or have impact given the way that public health information flows operate, in their view. But several others note that these scientific conclusions were published in traditional journals, rather than under open access conditions, making it onerous if not impossible for the nation most directly in need of this information to access it.
It turns out that at least some of the articles in question, even though published in traditional journals, should have been accessible to Liberian researchers and health officials under the terms of the Research4Life program. It is unclear whether the relevant institutions registered to set up access. But even if they did so, I wonder if this is enough.
Having recently written about some of the various impediments facing researchers even when seeking to access materials their universities have licensed, I couldn’t help but see this dynamic as having some similarities. Can a researcher use the increasingly advanced discovery tools and practices that so many of us take for granted and then link seamlessly to free and reduced cost access models such as those provided by Research4Life? It would not make sense to treat the HINARI health resources available through Research4Life as the primary starting point for nearly any kind of research, but does starting from Google, Google Scholar, PubMed, or other more appropriate search services lead to a no-access dead-end?
The efforts to address access barriers in the developing world are important, but linking discovery together with access is vital for researchers.
Thanks to David Crotty, Jill O’Neill, and Richard Poynder, for an exchange on twitter that stimulated this post.
Can Faculty Members Blend Their Courses with Existing MOOCs? Rebecca Griffiths Shares Findings from the University System of Maryland
Rebecca Griffiths is presenting on a multi-campus study with the University System of Maryland at the Eighth Annual Emerging Technologies for Online Learning Annual Symposium in Dallas, Texas.
"Can Faculty Members Blend Their Courses with Existing MOOCs?" describes a set of fourteen test cases using MOOCs in blended formats with the University System of Maryland.
Upcoming Webinar: Understanding the Needs of Your STEM and Health Sciences Faculty and Students
Ithaka S+R’s local surveys are designed to help libraries gather evidence about their faculty and students to better understand the impact of the emerging digital landscape on research, teaching, and learning outcomes. Interested in learning more? Please join Roger Schonfeld and Alisa Rod on April 23 for a webinar about our surveys program.
Understanding the needs of your STEM and health sciences faculty and students
Thursday, April 23, 1:00–2:00 p.m. (EDT)
Ithaka S+R’s local surveys are designed to help libraries gather evidence about their faculty and students to better understand the impact of the emerging digital landscape on research, teaching, and learning outcomes. Interested in learning more? Please join Roger Schonfeld and Alisa Rod on April 22 for a webinar about our surveys program.
A local approach to the US Faculty Survey 2015
Wednesday, April 22, 1:00–2:00 p.m. (EDT)
Ithaka S+R’s surveys program is growing. Nearly 60 colleges and universities have fielded our student and faculty surveys with their own campus community, with questionnaires that are developed and tested in partnership with the academic library community. This fall, we will be fielding the next cycles of the US Faculty Survey and, in collaboration with Jisc and RLUK, the UK Survey of Academics, with findings due to be released in the spring.
A few weeks ago, we were fortunate to have Christine Wolff join us as survey administrator. Christine was most recently the Program Coordinator for Planning and Organizational Research for the Rutgers University Libraries. In that role, she was responsible for statistics gathering and reporting, IRB submissions, and a variety of assessment projects. She developed and ran a large survey across the Rutgers campuses to study brand perceptions of the library.
At Ithaka S+R, Christine will be assuming responsibility for administering our local surveys of students and faculty members. She will be working closely with all local survey participants to help them secure institutional approvals, customize their questionnaire, maximize their response rate, and receive timely reporting. Alisa Rod, our survey coordinator, remains responsible for questionnaire design and testing, survey methodology, and analysis.
I am thrilled that Christine has joined Ithaka S+R and look forward to providing even stronger support to our local survey participants.
The competitive pressures facing higher education these days are often compared to the massive changes that overwhelmed the music and publishing industries in the last decade. The music industry seems to have emerged at the other end of that transformation in better shape than it entered. The same can’t be said of newspapers, of course. But publishing companies continue to evolve and colleges and universities might still be able to learn lessons from the decisions they are now making about their future in delivering content to consumers.
The key decision facing many publishers is how to compete for an audience that faces many more choices about where to get their news content. Publishers early on embraced social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, as another channel to reach passive readers who might not otherwise see their content.
But what has happened in recent years is that readers are increasingly using those social networks as aggregators to make sense of a crowded world of information. So readers stopped visiting individual news sites and instead went right to their Facebook page to get their news. Nearly 80 percent of the traffic to some news sites today comes from Facebook. News sites are now more dependent on Facebook than ever before.
Meanwhile, Facebook wants those eyeballs to stay on its site. So it is now in talks with the New York Times and a few other news providers to become a platform for their content. Instead of sending users off to the New York Times to read a story, Facebook users will read it right in their feed. In doing so, the Facebook brand will trump that of the New York Times in the minds of readers. Readers already often have difficulty recalling where they saw a story. In this new world, the New York Times will become almost invisible to them, although it is the Times that is paying to actually produce that content. And the New York Times is making fewer dollars, if any, off of those Facebook readers.
This tension between the New York Times and Facebook reminds me of what is happening in higher education with the providers of Massive Open Online Courses, Coursera and edX. Last year, when writing a book on MOOCs, students taking the classes often told me they signed up for a course from Coursera or edX. They could sometimes name the professor. Most of the time, however, they couldn’t name the university offering the course even though they were among the biggest brand names in higher education.
Once platform providers like Facebook or Coursera dominate the relationship, universities give up more than a branding opportunity. In the case of MOOCs, institutions give up control over their content: what courses to offer, when to offer them, who teaches the courses, and just how open and free they are to the world.
We’re already seeing such battles emerge between Coursera and its partner universities. Coursera, for instance, wants courses to run more frequently and allow the content to always be available. But that means the universities would need to allow its proprietary material to live online indefinitely. It would also require that professors be available to moderate the course year-round or outsource the job to a paid teaching assistant.
As nonprofit entities, colleges and universities have long had an uneasy relationship with for-profit companies with which they do business. That tension has only increased in the last decade, as colleges have become ever more dependent on outside vendors because of the demands of technology. Colleges would prefer to build online course platforms that they can control, but it’s nearly impossible for them to hire the talent needed to design and then constantly evolve such products.
As a result, campuses are forced to hitch themselves to for-profit companies like Coursera that gain more market share with every partnership they sign, and ultimately more control.
While the idea of the open university might sound like a great idea to students and families just like reading a New York Times story seamlessly on Facebook sounds great to its users, someone has to ultimately pay for the creation of that knowledge. How this issue will be resolved remains a big question for the future and something universities need to think about before rushing to sign up with outside providers as a platform for their course content.
Jeffrey J. Selingo is a professor of practice at Arizona State University and a contributor to The Washington Post and The Chronicle of Higher Education. He is the author of several books on higher education. Jeff also contributes to Ithaka S+R's blog.
Jeffrey J. Selingo
Nancy Fried Foster Delivers Keynote Address at AMICAL Meeting in Bulgaria
Nancy Fried Foster will discuss "Learning How to Do Research in a Community of Scholarship" in her keynote address to the American International Consortium of Academic Libraries (AMICAL) in Bulgaria.