Measures of student success at the University of Georgia are at all-time highs, and ongoing enhancements to the learning environment aim to lift retention and graduation rates to even higher levels in the coming years.
The retention rate — an indicator of student success and satisfaction that quantifies the percentage of incoming students who return for their sophomore year — now stands at 96 percent, a record that exceeds the 95 percent average retention rate for UGA’s highly selective aspirational institutions. UGA’s 96 percent freshman retention rate also exceeds the 90 percent average for UGA’s peer institutions and the 88 percent Southeastern Conference average.
“There is no commitment more important at the University of Georgia than our commitment to student learning and success,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “I want to congratulate our outstanding faculty, staff and students. These impressive metrics ultimately reflect their hard work and dedication to academic excellence.”
The most recent data show that UGA’s four-year and six-year graduation rates remain at record highs, as well. Sixty-six percent of UGA students earned their degrees within four years. For comparison, the average four-year graduation rates for aspirational, peer and SEC institutions are 68, 52 and 45 percent respectively.
Eighty-five percent of UGA students graduate within six years. For comparison, the average six-year graduation rates for aspirational, peer and SEC institutions are 87, 75 and 71 percent, respectively.
Student success a top priority
In a campus-wide effort led by Academic Affairs and Student Affairs, the university has made fostering student success — both during their time on campus and after graduation — a key priority. Last year UGA became the nation’s largest public university to ensure that each of its students engages in hands-on learning such as internships, research, study abroad and service-learning. These high-impact learning practices are linked to higher levels of engagement, deeper learning and higher levels of success in graduate school and in the workplace.
Last year the university also completed a small class size hiring initiative that recruited 56 new faculty members and has markedly increased pass rates in challenging courses where students benefit from greater faculty interaction. Additionally, over 270 faculty hosted more than 2,700 students for voluntary, out-of-class gatherings as part of the Student Faculty Enrichment Fund, increasing faculty accessibility and enriching student-faculty relationships.
Students at UGA also receive a higher level of personalized support thanks several initiatives dedicated to meeting students’ specific needs. The Disability Resource Center served nearly 1,900 students with disabilities last year through accommodated testing and creating accessible textbooks and videos. More than 70 faculty and staff served as transition coaches for over 220 student veterans through the Student Veterans Resource Center’s transition and readiness coaching program, building development plans, resumes, and networks in preparation for their careers or graduate school.
With the addition of 35 academic advisors since 2015, the university has enhanced support for students’ discovery of their academic and career aspirations. At the university’s Exploratory Center, which opened last fall, specially trained advisors help students find a major that aligns with their unique talents and goals. In addition, new digital tools help improve communication between students and advisors and proactively highlight issues that might impede a student’s progress toward graduation.
Reinforcing the comprehensive educational experience, the university implements a highly successful First-Year Live On Requirement. Nearly 98 percent of first-year students live in nine intentionally planned housing communities, realizing involvement in educational and social programs, self-governance, resident-staff collaboration, student employment and personal responsibility.
Our goal is for our core commitment to students to resonate throughout campus. — Victor K. Wilson, vice president for student affairs
UGA places the highest priority on the health and wellness of its students. The university has launched a reimagined case management and proactive intervention model through Student Care and Outreach, connecting with more than 700 faculty, staff and students to provide individualized assistance to students experiencing hardship circumstances and support to faculty and staff working with students in distress. Student Conduct and the University Health Center are collaborating on an innovative mentor program in which 40 students going through the university’s conduct process this past year received direct, recurring faculty or staff mentorship. Additionally, the Let All the Big Dawgs Eat food scholarship provided meal plans to more than 70 students this past year. To date, Student Affairs has raised more than $2 million to support the scholarship’s goal of eliminating the financial and mental stress of food insecurity for UGA students.
“Our goal is for our core commitment to students to resonate throughout campus,” said Victor K. Wilson, vice president for student affairs. “Through every partnership, program and service we offer, UGA is here for the students.”
To build on these successes for the benefit of students, Morehead recently announced the Investing in Student Success Initiative to recruit 10 tenure-track faculty members, 10 lecturers and six academic advisors to support students in fields with rapid enrollment growth.
This fall the university also launched an ambitious program that gives students the opportunity to earn both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in five years or less. Through the Double Dawgs program, students accelerate their progress toward a master’s degree by taking rigorous, graduate-level coursework during the final year of their undergraduate studies. Faculty members have established more than 115 Double Dawgs linked-degree programs, and additional programs are currently in development.
Unrivaled learning environment
“The University of Georgia has differentiated itself as an institution that embraces bold and ambitious initiatives,” said Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Pamela Whitten. “We’re creating an unrivaled learning environment, and students from across the state and around the world have responded by applying for admission in record numbers.”
Other academic initiatives that are helping students earn their degrees in a timelier manner include an expansion of online course offerings in the summer to enable students to earn course credits while away from campus on internships, studying abroad or spending time with family. A record 16,447 students took summer courses in 2017, and 28 percent of those enrollments were online.
Programs such as the recently restructured Freshman College Summer Experience help ensure a smooth transition from high school to the university, and predictive analytics help the university’s Division of Academic Enhancement proactively reach out to students who could benefit from resources such as tutoring and academic counseling.
In addition to positioning students for success on campus and after graduation, academic and co-curricular initiatives such as these have garnered national recognition for the university. UGA recently achieved its highest U.S. News & World Report ranking—16th among public universities—and the university also boasts a 95 percent career outcomes rate, which exceeds the national average by 13 percentage points.
“We are constantly looking for ways to further expand success for our students — both while they are at UGA and for their futures beyond the university,” said Vice President for Instruction Rahul Shrivastav. “Ultimately, our goal is to help develop them as lifelong learners who will go out and make a global impact.”