GSW sees surge in student retention
AMERICUS — Student retention is at an all-time high at Georgia Southwestern State University (GSW). These results didn’t happen by chance though. The University implemented changes in Fall 2018, in an effort to increase student retention by providing an intentional focus on both the academic and social success of first-year students.
In his August Assembly address, GSW President Neal Weaver, Ph.D., proudly reported those efforts proved effective when the number jumped from 61.2 percent in Fall 2018 to 74.1 percent opening Fall 2019.
“The success of GSW students is important to all of us at the University,” said Weaver. “We took our retention number very seriously and focused our energy around the challenges that first-year students face. These impressive results were achieved through an all-hands-on-deck approach across campus and I’m proud of our team for making this happen.”
One of the most impactful strategies implemented was the creation of the Office of First-Year Experience (FYE). Leveraging existing student and academic support staff, FYE is responsible for freshmen advising and registration, orientation and transition programs, tutoring and supplemental instruction, and parent and family programs. They offer workshops and sessions throughout the year to propel students academically and socially.
David Jenkins, Ph.D., director of FYE, expressed that he was excited to be involved in the creation of this new area and to see the positive results of the retention efforts. “I look forward to continuing to build the FYE program while increasing our persistence and retention rates.”
Another major tactic was the application of the University System of Georgia’s Momentum Year Initiative (now Momentum Approach) which encourages students to make a purposeful choice in their major discipline by selecting a focus area. Students should complete their core English and math courses, earn nine credit hours in their selected major or focus area, and have at least 30 hours in their first year.
“Freshmen successfully completing their first year of college and returning to GSW is an essential focus of our work,” stated Laura Boren, Ph.D., vice president for Division of Student Engagement and Success. “We are committed to ensuring every student receives personal attention and support. Our individualized approach has proven successful and we will continue to improve our practices to better serve our students.”
Other efforts included redesigning the University 1000 courses by helping students build a productive academic mindset; increasing student communication on financial aid, registration, and payment information utilizing text messaging, mailers, and social media; launching the “Take Tomorrow By Storm” campaign and injecting campus branding which incites campus pride and school spirit.
More strategies were put in place Fall 2019 to continue the retention focus including the addition of more STORM Days, extension of Orientation Week, and creation of an Advising Task Force.
A number of GSW student offices were restructured in the effort to increase student retention and student involvement on campus. The former Office of Student Affairs became the Division of Student Engagement and Success, which encompasses all areas related to student life, including Recruitment and Admissions, Financial Aid, Residence Life, Student Engagement, Recreation and Wellness, and Health and Counseling Services.