In early 2011 the University of Georgia embarked on plans for a new academic journey for first-year students. Its goal was to engage them in the academic culture of UGA and create opportunities for meaningful dialogue and sustained interactions with faculty.
In its inaugural year, 5,780 students participated in the First-Year Odyssey Seminar Program, completing one of nearly 400 seminars. Through these small classes of 15-18 students covering a variety of subject areas, faculty have been more accessible to first-year students than ever before.
This program is one of several initiatives the university is using to improve accessibility, opportunity and college completion—the first strategy employed in UGA’s Complete College Georgia plan to increase retention and graduation rates. The CCG plan is a statewide project coordinated by the University System of Georgia. UGA has instituted five strategies to support the university’s goals of increasing graduation rates to the mean of its aspirational institutions, increasing scholarship funding and supporting college readiness. The first of these strategies is improving access, opportunity and completion.
“This particular strategy is the basis for our plan,” said Laura Jolly, vice president for instruction and coordinator of UGA’s CCG plan. “To be successful, we need to create opportunities where students will be engaged, make lasting connections and receive the assistance they need to achieve their goals and attain a college degree.”
Besides the FYO, other campus programs are in place to improve access and opportunity. Initiatives like UGA Programs Abroad in the Office of International Education, the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities and the Office of Service-Learning provide students with possibilities for enhancing their learning experience on campus and abroad.
“Making sure our qualified students have the financial means to attend UGA is just as important as providing these learning opportunities for them,” said Jolly. “We are launching the Gateway to Georgia Scholarship Program this fall to address the needs of students who might not otherwise be able to afford college. These scholarships will provide both merit- and need-based assistance, attracting qualified students who have a desire to succeed and take advantage of the many learning opportunities available at UGA.”
Perhaps one of the most crucial aspects of retention is being able to provide academic support to students. The Academic Resource Center in Milledge Hall provides free tutoring to all UGA students in math, science, statistics, language arts and writing. Requests for tutoring in recent years have increased significantly, necessitating the incorporation of TutorTrac, an online system to request tutoring and provide a more streamlined process for students.
In addition to tutoring, the Collaborative Academic and Retention Efforts was created as an early intervention program to address the individual needs of students on academic probation after their first semester of enrollment. Also, university advisers across campus have come together on the Academic Advising Coordinating Council to provide leadership and professional development for advisers as well as to help provide a more meaningful advising experience for students.
“These initiatives have been long established and will continue to be monitored for success over the next several years,” Jolly said. “The ultimate goal of CCG and the university is to ensure that more students are given the tools to make a degree possible by providing the necessary financial and academic resources.”
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles about the university’s efforts to increase retention and graduation rates through the UGA Complete College Georgia Plan. Read the other stories in the series: Narrowing the gap: UGA takes steps to improve retention and graduation rates