First-Year Student Success at University of North Georgia

The State of Georgia wants to increase the number of residents who hold postsecondary credentials. Consequently, Georgia’s academic institutions face huge but intriguing challenges in admissions, advising, and program development in order to assure student success.

The University of North Georgia (UNG), an institution of five campuses and 20,000 students enrolled in graduate and undergraduate programs, takes the challenge seriously.

Michelle Eaton, Director of Enrollment Management Student Success at the University of North Georgia, joined the Enrollment Growth University podcast to talk about their multi-pronged approach to 1st-year student success at UNG.

UNG’s Response to Complete College Georgia

Complete College Georgia’s overall goal is to increase the percentage of Georgians with postsecondary credentials.  One of the strategies to meet that goal is increasing access to all students that are eligible and willing to attend higher education.

At UNG, Michelle said, “we’re very fortunate because we offer certificate programs and then we also have associate and bachelor degrees. So, we’re serving our communities.”

Another key goal is persistence and progression. Using quality enhancement planning, UNG improved its academic advising program to help students graduate on time and on target. Faculty advisors are better trained to help students understand their strengths, the overall curriculum, and academic goals during the first 45 credit hours.

UNG also decreases excess credits. Obviously, this has financial aid implications.

“The  University of North Georgia is ranked number one in the South for lowest student debt by U.S. News and World Report. We’re also ranked in Kiplinger’s and Forbes Magazine for lists of best college values,” Michelle said.

In addition to these strategies, UNG is restructuring its instructional delivery to support educational excellence, and the university has created a strategy called 15 to Finish, designed to help students get the right 15 credits each semester in the best way for them — online courses, summer credits, or CLEP testing.

UNG’s Momentum Year Program

A student’s first year is their Momentum Year.

The Chief Academic Officer at UNG developed the three basic concepts of the Momentum Year. They are: start, enter, follow.

Students start off in the Momentum Year by selecting a focus area, which is also known as a meta-major across higher ed. During the application process, through admissions, and then the orientation process, UNG strategically encourages students to choose a focus area.

“We’re developing ways that students can research and choose the right major or focus area by partnering with career services and academic affairs,” Michelle said.

First-year students follow a clearly sequenced program of success that includes taking one English and one math course, and then adding an additional nine credits to their academic focus area. Ultimately, students complete 30 credit hours in the first year.

Necessary Collaboration Between Academic Affairs and Student Affairs

Student success is multi-faceted, and it includes success both inside and outside the classroom. At UNG, Michelle and her team seek to improve overall success by supporting students’ academic success, their financial stability, their sense of belonging and engagement, and their health and wellbeing.

“In order for students to be successful,” Michelle said, “it’s really vital that each division coordinates institutional efforts and collaboration and not silos.”

That’s why UNG created a partnership between student affairs and academic affairs to develop programs and strategies to aid in students success from little touches on our website to developing committees throughout the university.

Institutional Changes Required to Focus on First-Year Student Success

In 2013, UNG consolidated some offices so enrollment management now falls under student affairs.

“Recently, we have become a more student-success-driven operation,” Michelle said, “that not only remains focused on marketing, recruiting, and enrolling students, but also on their success and persistence from one semester to the next until, ultimately, graduation.

Since this change, UNG has established a university-wide structure that includes faculty and staff from across divisions to identify strategies to improve service to students, increase efficiencies, and take a look at policies and procedures that could serve as barriers to student success.

“We also identify students that could benefit from additional resources,” Michelle told us, “and then develop nudge campaigns to push students in the right direction.”

Other changes include forming a strong partnership in collaboration with institutional research to make more data-informed decisions and using predictive analytics tools to predict enrollment in student persistence activity.

Next-Steps Advice for Institutions Pursuing First-Year Success

Take a robust look at who your students are and meet them where they are.

That means reviewing your institutional data and analytical insights then creating a comprehensive plan to help your students succeed. Wrap that plan into your larger enrollment management strategic plan and your institutional strategic plan.

It takes a lot of research and behind-the-scenes work.

“Just know that keeping your mind and your heart in the forefront of what you believe in as a practitioner of higher education,” Michelle said, “which is student success, is really important. Just showing that to your colleagues definitely helps in writing your story for success at your institution.”

This post is based on a podcast interview with Michelle Eaton from the University of North Georgia. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.