How GSU raised its graduation rates across race, ethnicity, income levels

The school looks to address student success issues before they arise

In an interview with University Business, Georgia State University President Mark Becker discusses how data-supported advising aided in the creation of the "new kind of urban research university." 

Georgia State serves a much more diverse population of students than traditional research universities do. "And that's not just race and ethnicity, but it's also income levels. It's nontraditional students, traditional students," Becker says. "But we don't accept that as a reason for low retention and graduation rates."

The institution's 2011 strategic plan called for increasing the school's graduation rates from the 30% it hovered at about 15 years ago, to 60%. Currently, the school is halfway through its plan and already boasts a 54% graduation rate.

"I think the signature achievement of our system is we've eliminated all disparities in graduation rates based on race, ethnicity, or income," Becker says.  

More on data-driven advising

To do this, the university centralized advising with "specialty advisers" who focus on certain disciplines, such as health professions, business, sciences, or liberal arts.

They also implemented data-analytics tools from EAB, enabling advisers to be proactive rather than reactive.

"Historically, if the student was having trouble, they went to see their adviser after the fact. By being proactive, you can make those small adjustments early on" and avoid getting too far off the course to graduation, Becker says. The system monitors students to make sure they're on track to graduate.

If the algorithm spots an issue, an alert notifies both the student and the appropriate adviser, who can then sit down with the student and discuss the problem. 

How Georgia State University created a culture where numbers matter

Issues can be as simple as needing to build in extra study time for a particularly hard course coming up next semester, Becker says. But others may be more complicated, such as alerting the students that they are unlikely to graduate in their chosen major.

"This predictive analytics system triggered 43,000 face-to-face meetings between advisers and students last year," Becker says. 

"We're trying to provide a lot of information to the student. Not just what they seem well-suited to, but what kind of jobs does that lead to and what kind of salaries are associated with those jobs. So the student can make an informed decision from the point of view of what interests them, what they’re good at, and what may be a pathway for them in their career once they successfully complete," Becker says (Goral, University Business, March 2016). 

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