49: Improving Graduation Rates at Georgia State University w/ Timothy Renick

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Dr. Timothy Renick, Sr. Vice President for Student Success at Georgia State University, discusses the tech-enabled high-touch strategies that have helped raise their 6-year graduation rate from 32% to 54%.

If you can get to students as individuals address their needs personally, you're much more likely to have success in education. You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university, a proud member of the connect ETU podcast network. I am Eric Olson, AVP of marketing at Helix Education, and we're here today with Dr Timothy Rennick's Senior Vice President for student success at Georgia State University. Tim, welcome to the show. Thank you very good to be here. Super excited to talk to you today about how you and your team are using a holistic approach to improve the six year graduation rate to Georgia state from thirty two to fifty four percent. Before we dig into that, Tim, can you give the listeners a little bit better understanding of both Georgia state and your role there? Yeah, sure, Georgia state is a large public urban university. We're right in downtown Atlanta, fifty two thousand students and one of the most diverse institutions in the south. Each about sixty percent of our students are Pale eligible, meaning low income students, and about sixty seven percent are non white. So we've got record numbers of student students enrolling and record diversity every year. And I head up all the student success programs for the university. I've done so for the last decade. So I oversee offices starting with admissions, going through registration, scholarships, first year programs, advising all the way up to career services. Awesome, Tim. Let's start off by talking about your overall philosophy of tech enabled high touch strategies and how those can aid in student success. We've already always known that one of the things students respond to well is individualized, personalized attention.

If you can get to students as individuals address their needs personally, you're much more likely to have success in education. The problem for big universities like Georgia state has been delivering those personalized services in the past. Often Times it was one on one, you know, a staff interventions that were required, and what we've done over the last decade is leverage technology to deliver much more personalized services to students on a day to day basis. So even though they're at a large public university, in many cases they're interacting with us as if they're at him a smaller institution. Love it, Tim. Let's dig into some of these really creative examples to get the minds of the listeners running on how many of these they can emulate to or rethink or pivot on at their own institutions. You've moved beyond topical tutoring to provide very specific course support by paying undergraduate students who have already succeeded in that course to be course. To talk about exactly how that works? Yeah, well, it starts with the data. We've looked at the courses across Georgia state that are the tripping points, the obstacles to student success. Every campus has them, these courses that fail or have a large numbers of students withdrawing from them. And what we've done is look in our data for students who succeed in those same courses, especially students who are already supported by the university on work study or other sorts of scholarship programs. And what we do now is pull them out of their current assignments. They may be, you know, answering front phones at a front desk. If you have a student who's aced organic chemistry and their sophomore year, don't waste them, you know, sitting at a front desk answering phones. We pull them out. We pay them to go through training, we pay them to sit in on the same class they succeeded in the past and we pay them to do three formal instructional sex sessions every week. What we found is the students who attend these sessions are often very different than the students who attend regular office hours for faculty members. There are so social and cultural...

...barriers to students showing up and knocking on a door and saying I need you to explain it to me in another fashion. They're much more likely to go to a peer who often looks more like they do and comes from a similar background. And we've seen bumps of about half a letter grade in courses where we embed these peer and near peer tutors. Students are doing better, the tutors are doing better. Their graduation rates have gone up by about seven percentage points because, instead of sitting around to answering phones. They're actually being mentored by a faculty member in the course and helping students understand subject matter. It's such a great idea. Now let's talk about your approach to flipping some of your introductory level courses and the initial results of this strategy. Yeah, it's another idea of trying to deliver individualized support for students at scale. You know, big math courses at Georgia state we're, quite frankly, a disaster. Six or seven years ago, forty three percent of the students who attempted introductory math courses were getting non passing grades. That's a recipe for disaster at a big institution where the majority of students are low income, because low income students can afford to take a course, pay for it and then have to circle back the next semester and take the same course all over again. So we've totally changed the way we deliver introductory math instruction at Georgia state. We're no longer doing any sections of introductory math as lecture hall classes. All of the courses are flipped hybrid classes, meaning the students meet one hour week in a traditional classroom with their classmates and instructor three hours a week their meeting in dedicated math labs. All the students are there with their their colleagues and with their instructor, but working at their own terminals, at their own pace, on adaptive learning exercises. So the slower students they don't get left behind in the first couple weeks if they don't understand a base of concepts of their lost by, you know, week three of the course. The more advanced students don't get bored and tuned out because each student is getting questions from the adaptive platform that are geared personalize to their ability level. I think the big a secret is that every hour student is one of the is in one of these labs.

They're getting about a hundred bits of immediate, personalized feedback. Under the old model, a student could sit in the back row and go the whole semester without ever getting called upon. Now the students are doing math and getting immediate feedback all through the semester. It's made a huge difference. With the same material that the students were attempting beforehand, we're now getting over thirty five percent more of the students with passing grades and the students are succeeding at higher levels at the next math or science course they take as well. So we've increased the number of stem majors graduating from Georgia state. At the same time we've increased the the throughput for some of these really tough introductory math courses. It's such a tripic success story, I think. I think some examples of failures and flip learning that I've seen or heard from our peers and colleagues and highread is the inability for students to have done the work ahead of time. But is your hope that your assists of platform solves for that, that even if they come in maybe not having done the work ahead of time, that the platform helps them catch up? Absolutely in fact, we found that for our flip sections it was important to keep the class meeting as a group and keep the instructor in the room for just the reasons you're talking about, that if a student or a group of students didn't come in prepared to that session, the instructor could note that there was some basic concept that the students were missing over and over again as they were working on the adaptive exercises and pull the group aside and say okay. Well, let's start, stop for a moment and talk for five minutes about this basic concept that students are missing. So it is definitely a hybrid in every sense of the word. We are leveraging technology, but in some ways we're using personalized touch and a more intensive fashion than would have been the case in some big lecture hall where the The instructor is just, you know, teaching the material as they did the previous semester. I really love it. Another idea of yours that I found really inspiring. Can you talk about what you've done to decrease major switching and how that's taken a full half semester off yourraduate average graduation time? Yeah, it's...

...a design flaw, I think at big institutions like like Georgia state, at least historically, you know, we enrolled this increasingly diverse student body, lots of first generation, low income students. We would bring them into this campus where we brag about the fact that we have over a hundred majors, and then we would just expect them to choose, and choose wisely. They would choose. They would pick some major and pick, you know, four or five courses that first semester and then they would get into them and decide, well, that's not really what I wanted. I thought I wanted to be an accountant, but now maybe I want to go into marketing, and they try a couple semesters of marketing and say that's not what I want to either. Maybe I want to go into finance. And you know, for low income students this isn't many cases was their ticket out of higher education because they're unlimited eligibility, limited aid programs. They can't afford to bounce between majors, creating added time to degree. Six seven years ago at Georgia state, the average graduate was going through two point six major years before they graduated. The average student, and these were are success tois. These are the ones who lasted it out and actually got to the point of getting a degree. So we've totally changed the way we on board students. Now, before they even set foot on campus, we have a new portal. It will show them, for whatever area they're interested in, for example nursing, the number of nursing jobs in the Metro Atlanta area for that morning. Starting salary if you have a bachelor's degree, starting salary if you have an associate's degree, but like Netflix or Amazon, that's say well, you like these books or movies, you might like these other things. We say well, if you're interested in nursing, you may be interested in the fact that we have a degree in health management and health informatics and radiologic technology, and here are the starting salaries and the job offerings this morning in those fields as well. So students are already primed to begin to think about the connection between their academic choices and their career trajectory before they arrive on campus. But the biggest change is now we enroll all students in the first semester and learning communities arranged around Meta majors. So we get groups of twenty five students who share a large area of interest. We're not trying to get them to pick an actual major, but...

...do you want to go into stem do you want to go into the arts? Do you want to go into business? If we can identify that big academic bucket, then we put them in a learning community with twenty four other students who share that interested and we push programming at them all through the first year. So the business learning communities will go to open houses in the business department so they they can the students can learn about marketing and finance and so forth. They'll be an alumni panel. The orientation course in the learning community will be taught by a business faculty a member, so by the end of the first year the students are able to make a much more informed choice about what field they want to go into. This has been a low cost program really no cost program. We've just leverage resources and a registered the students in a slightly different way, but it's resulted in a thirty two percent drop in the number of students at Georgia state who are changing their majors after the first year. So students are finding the right fit earlier on. They're more likely to persist because they're happy with what they're what they're studying and they're not creating the same number of wasted credit hours. Over the last five years, since we introduce this change, we've reduced the average time to degree of getting a Bachelor's degree at Georgia state by more than half a semester per student. That's savings of about fifteen million dollars in tuition and fees alone for this year's graduating class compared to the graduating class the year before we launched the initiative. Alsus really creative strategies. Tim When you speak about this concept of high touch tech, there's obviously some automation involved, but a lot of these touches are coming from professional advisors to what investments have you made in academic advisors and success coaches to improve these graduation rates? Here are our biggest data change in automated system is probably our tracking of every student for eight hundred risk factors every night. So a big predictive analytics project that involved historical data to track every student for the kind of stakes, errors decisions that in the past correlated to students dropping...

...or flunking out of the university. We've tracked for six years now every Georgia state student every single day for those eight hundred different risk factors, with immediate interventions starting the next day when we detect some things afoot, simple things like student signing up for the wrong class or underperforming in a prerequisite. But, as you anticipate in your question, you know the the well. The attention is on the tech by far. The biggest lift was the staffing to support a new initiative like that one so well. You know, we're spending a couple hundred thousand dollars a year on the technology, but we've invested over two million dollars in additional advisors, academic advisors, who are tracking students on a day to day basis and who can intervene in a timely fashion. You know the magic of the system when it's working well, as if a student struggling two or three weeks into a math course, we can get them interventions, we detect the problem and we can get sit down with them and talk about the resources, the tutoring, the other sorts of resources available so that by the mid term that student who was struggling at week three might be able to pull out a B or B plus and where in the past they might have gotten a d or an f. that's the beauty if it went it's working. But in order to work you have to have staff ready and trained to intervene and in a very short period of time, because it does no good if you get back to that student struggling in week two, in week six, after the mid term has occurred and the student has already failed at so that's where the investment has come but you know, the listeners should realize that these are really not only good investments from a moral perspective, doing right by our students, but they really help the university fiscally as well. So every one percent we increase our retention rate. At Georgia state that's about three million dollars in annual revenues. Intuition and fees that were bringing in that in the past we're just walking away from them, from the institution by the fact that the student was dropping out. And when we launched this advising initiative using the predictive analytics, we increase the retention rate by between four and five points in the first year. It's gone up more since then, but in one year...

...the results were about a four to five percentage point increase. So we're talking about, you know, two million dollars investment. That's pretty painful, but we're talking about bringing in revenues over a twelvemonth period of over ten million dollars based upon the Games made in these tough demographic times where many, many states are are facing declines in the number of high school graduates. You know, I think one of the most prudent things a campus can do is fine, innovative an aggressive ways to hold on to the students you have. The days of just watching one group of students walk away and the next fall a whole nother group coming in. You know, those are largely gone and what we need to do is, you know, actually serve the students we have and hold onto them, not just because it's the right thing to do, but because it's the thing that's going to keep our campuses fiscally solvent. Tim such great stuff. Any next steps? Advice for other students success to visions hoping to make similar impact of their institutions? Yeah, my advice is, you know, you don't have to spend a lot of money. You know, what you need to do is think about being smarter in the way you deploy the resources that you have. This whole initiative we talked about of learning communities and registering students by their areas of interest and so forth, it's cost us nothing. It's just been a more efficient way of organizing the students as they come into the university and it's provide a platform for faculty who already wanted to engage these students to have the ability to engage them by their areas of interest. But it's made a huge difference in our outcomes. It's resulted in higher retention rates, higher performance as far as academics and then, as we heard, quicker graduation rates, a more efficient throughput through all our academic programs and so forth. So, you know, it's nice to have the resources to, you know, invest in analytics and hire more advisors and so forth, and I think it's a prudent thing to do, but that needn't be the starting point. The starting point can just be how can we look at what we're currently doing that is tripping up students, things like bringing mostly low income,...

...first generation students onto your campus and expecting them to choose wisely among, you know, a myriad of decisions who put in front of them? How can we take that system and turn it into one that makes a lot more sense from the student perspective? Many of those changes can be done for for next to no cost at all. Tam Thank you so much for your time today. What's the best place for listeners to connect with you they have any follow up questions? Yeah, we've got a lot of resources out there. The best thing to do is go to our website. Initially, we have a website set up to talk about all these programs with data and videos and third party assessments. It's simply success DOT GSU DOT Edu, success DOT GSU DOT Edu. And then if you want to contact me personally, you can find through that website all kinds of ways to reach out to me as well, and I'm happy to answer additional questions. Awesome. Thanks again so much for doing us today, Toim my pleasure. Eric. Attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Helix educations data driven, enterprize wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges, downloaded today for free at Helix Educationcom. Slash playbook. You've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the shown itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

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