Set Up For Student Success
A lot of our students are facing extreme hardships right now. Any given semester, 85 percent of Georgia State undergraduates are working, and many of their jobs — at restaurants, in retail — were the first to be eliminated as the economy began to decline.
We enroll one of the largest low-income student populations in the country, and this spring we had almost 29,000 Pell Grant-recipient students at Georgia State. That’s three times more than the entire Ivy League.
In an interesting way, though, our unique student body has been an advantage during the pandemic. This spring, our graduation rate and the grade-point average of our graduating class hit a record highs. Because almost all of our students are non-traditional in some sense of the word, we’ve already built the systems to serve students who may have difficulty finding time for face-to-face meetings with staff.
One of our signature programs is academic advising based on predictive analytics. We’re tracking every student for 800 risk factors every day and reaching out to them when a problem is identified. Last year we had 60,000 meetings between advisers and students that were not initiated by student but by advisers.
As the pandemic unfolded, we were able to keep our advising of students going without missing a beat because we were already set up for video conferencing and for tracking students electronically. The first two weeks that we delivered instruction entirely online in the spring, we had more than 8,000 meetings between advisers and students, and that was almost the same pace as when we were operating normally in the early part of the semester.
We’ve also added some new alerts to our predictive analytics tracking system. If students are not logging on to their classes, advisers are reaching out. The advisers determine what the issues may be — trouble with technology, the course material, financial difficulties — and then connect the students to help. Because of these efforts, 98 percent of our spring undergraduates were logging on to their online classes every week.
In our Counseling Center, we’re also having hundreds of virtual meetings every week between counselors and students. In Career Services, we had a job fair scheduled for the week we came back and started online. We had already set up a virtual system, so students could come in that day and hear pitches from major employers such as State Farm and Amazon in a large chat room, and then ask for a private interview if they were interested. About 170 students participated in that virtual job fair.
Our Admissions Office had already set up a system for virtual campus tours because a lot of our prospective students and parents have trouble coming to our Atlanta Campus in the middle of the day. When we had to suspend in-person campus tours, we moved to virtual tours, and in one week we had 1,700 prospective students and parents participate.
We’ve also established an Emergency Assistance Fund for students, using some of the same principles, techniques and technologies in place for the last eight years to administer our Panther Retention Grant program. If students are facing food insecurity, for example, we have a process that allows us to give them resources in a very short time, often on the spot.
Over the last couple years, we’ve built up a large student Financial Management Center with dozens of financial counselors. A lot of our students have not had the experience of dealing with big financial decisions, so it’s that kind of advice that can be just as important as the dollars in helping students navigate this crisis.
There are so many distractions right now. Many of our students are trying to lead or are part of families that are under incredible duress due to economic strains or health issues. These things further challenge their ability to complete their degree programs and their courses. That’s why Georgia State’s student support services are so important.
We’ve created these supports because it’s the right thing to do and what our students need to graduate. But amid the COVID-19 pandemic, these kinds of wraparound services delivered at scale have become more important than ever.
Photo by Eric Thornton