Rachel Ann Bowser
Associate Professor and School of Liberal Arts Assistant Dean
Associate Director Mentoring and Advising Center
Executive Director for Enrollment Management
Student Success Advisor
I. Need for the project
The USG Momentum Year initiative stated three elements that can help students be on the right path to achieving their educational goals. These elements of making a purposeful choice in a focus area or program, productive academic mindset, and a clearly sequenced program map, however, may be more challenging for students entering college who are traditionally underserved and underrepresented in higher education. Thus, the need for an innovative approach to advising is critical to this population’s success.
Located in the most ethnically diverse county in Georgia, Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) was established with an open access mission. It is an institution where the majority of students (62%) are from minority groups, 35% are first-generation college students, 14.5% are non-traditional, and 65% receive Pell grants. Among first year students, about 25% start classes without declaring a major. Studies have shown that irrespective of their academic ability, students from these underserved populations typically do not possess the same “cultural capital” or level of skills, education, norms and behaviors as their more privileged peers upon entering college. Navigating complex college systems is often a daunting task as they are ill-prepared to do so. Oftentimes, new students do not have the confidence to ask professors or are ashamed to utilize resources on campus to help them with their studies. Some do not understand the implications of withdrawing or failing a course, or the difference between an associate's and baccalaureate degree. In order for these students to start college with a productive academic mindset, they must engage in activities that support the development of this cultural capital before they come to campus. Early intervention through intentional engagement with trained college staff and faculty mentors will better prepare this underserved population of students to: make decisions about programs and majors; develop a productive academic mindset; and achieve critical milestones as they move through their program plans.
The goal of our project is to improve student success and achievement particularly among traditionally underserved incoming GGC students by producing advising guidelines, developing an intentional communication plan, and providing avenues to develop the students’ cultural capital before they start classes.
Advising Guidelines. In order to produce the advising guidelines that will address issues related to improving student persistence, a cross-functional collaborative task force will be established. The task force will comprise of professional advisors; Financial Aid representatives; Registrar’s representatives; Institutional Effectiveness representatives; and faculty ambassadors from each of the Schools. The task force will be responsible for compiling relevant data and information and for creating a concise and clear set of advising guidelines.
The advising guidelines and our project must be informed by the CCG data so as to advance the USG Momentum Year initiative. The data on college persistence, progression, and graduation (RPG) will be used to develop this set of advising guidelines, which will then be used to train the faculty mentors and professional advisors. To illustrate, our CCG data tell us that a majority of our degree-seeking students earn fewer than 24 credit hours during their first year. This result heightens our students' risk for non-persistence, and we should work aggressively to mitigate this risk. Knowing this and other risk factors will allow mentors/advisors to take proactive steps to address non-persistence. Similarly, faculty and staff at GGC need to be equipped with clear information about the analytics that inform the major elements of the USG Momentum Year initiative. A clear understanding of how and why this initiative will benefit our students is the most valuable tool we can utilize.
Intentional Communication Plan. Aside from the advising guidelines, the task force will also be responsible for putting together an intentional communication plan for disseminating information to faculty and staff. Faculty and staff ambassadors will utilize department meetings, college-wide professional development sessions, and digital communication platforms as methods of disseminating information. This plan will leverage the influence of key faculty and staff within each of GGC's academic schools, which will enable greater buy-in from the faculty.
College Preparation to increase Student Cultural Capital. We will host targeted workshops and presentations on several topics with the purpose of helping our traditionally underserved students in particular to emulate success behavior. For example, trained faculty and staff ambassadors will be deployed to select high schools in Gwinnett County to provide targeted support to potential GGC students through high school Spring Advising Fairs. This early outreach will further support the momentum year activities by providing just-in-time information to students as they are submitting college applications and deciding on a college major. Specifically, these fairs will help students make a purposeful choice and begin to develop a productive academic mindset by GGC providing information and activities focused on: 1) career and major exploration; 2) expectations during their first college semester; and 3) the connection between academic success and financial aid. This information will also be embedded in the GGC New Student Orientation program when students are registering for classes and are being introduced to faculty, staff, and campus resources.
Fund Request. Requested funds of $10,000 will be used to:
A sustainability strategy will be part of our planning phase so as to continue the project even after the grant ends.
II. Project’s potential impact on student success and college completion
A clear and concise set of advising guidelines, complete with relevant data analytics will improve the quality of advising since the profiles of successful and unsuccessful students will prompt mentors and advisors to take proactive steps (e.g., advising additional tutoring, more intrusively checking on progress in Math) to address their mentees’ challenges. Moreover, the guidelines will provide mentors and advisors with vital information to share with students when having conversations about program and course selection. Meanwhile, a well-defined communication plan will assist in creating and disseminating consistent messaging and information, which will aid in setting clear expectations and advising standards. With such a plan, trained and well-informed mentors and advisors will provide students with value-added support as they progress through their degree programs. Retention, progression, and graduation are also expected to improve. Finally, early outreach through the Spring Advising Fairs and New Student Orientation will help students be better prepared for college. Helping students develop the cultural capital needed to navigate the college landscape before they start classes will save students time, effort, and money, as they are able to avoid costly academic setbacks. At this early stage, students will also begin to develop a connection with faculty and staff, which, in turn, builds affinity to the college, fosters confidence, and increases the students’ comfort level when interacting with college faculty and staff.
III. Potential lessons learned and potential impact on GGC and other USG institutions.
As a result of the proposed project, we expect to learn: 1) which campus partners are needed to provide coordinated support for academic success and what their roles will be; 2) what data are needed to advance the mission of GGC and the goals of Complete College Georgia; 3) what is the best training model for mentors and advisors at GGC; and 4) what information and activities can be used to support the development of cultural capital for our students.
GGC will be able to use the momentum grant to enhance Complete College Georgia initiatives particularly where it involves mentoring and advising and building an academic mindset. Faculty mentors and professional advisors will receive coordinated and intentional training on a regular basis. These coordinated efforts will result in a more engaged student body, which will ultimately lead to increased RPG. Increased RPG could improve the college's financial positioning, which will allow the college to increase intentional investment in the student experience. Finally, if scaled, this project could have a positive impact across all USG schools. Early outreach efforts offer students information and tools that will be useful no matter what institution they attend. A system-wide early outreach program will create well informed and better prepared student bodies across the USG.