More degrees, help needed to fuel new university's growth

Augusta State University is focusing on first-semester performance, which has been found to be a reliable predictor of whether a student graduates from college.

 The new name will still rankle many in Augusta, but Georgia Regents University is aiming to have 12,000 students by 2020 with a host of new degree programs and strengthened graduate and postdoctoral programs in a broader number of areas, officials said.

To strengthen its undergraduate program, Augusta State University will try to get more scholarships to students who are also working jobs and fix a dismal remedial math system. But to get there, it will take money, and the state will have to decide if it wants to commit to building a comprehensive research university, interim ASU President Shirley Strum Kenny said.

“If the state wants this, they’ve got to invest in it,” she said. “There is no way you can do it on the very tight budget on which ASU is running. I will say the budget is so tight it was a real shock to me when I came here. There should be a plan, a five-year plan, a 10-year plan that says this is the way we’re going to grow – and that the state commits to.”

The consolidated ASU and Georgia Health Sciences University is putting together ambitious plans for growth while trying to fix and enhance the undergraduate programs that are primarily at ASU, beginning with some changes this fall before the consolidation in early 2013. In its Complete College Georgia Plan, which came from Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s push to increase college graduation rates in the state, the universities acknowledge a dismal success rate in remedial math programs at ASU.

Of the 258 students who enrolled in remedial math in fall 2007, 128 – or about half – passed, but only 32 – or 12.6 percent – completed the follow-up math course. One solution would take follow-up math courses now offered three days a week over two semesters and combining them into a five-day-a-week, single-semester course, said Dr. Carol Rychly, the vice president for academic affairs at ASU.

“It’s just building in any remediation as it is needed,” she said.

 

ANOTHER APPROACH MIGHT be a “flipped” class, where math skills are broken down into modules of different skills and lesson plans are accessed on the students’ own time and at their own pace, Rychly said. Then in class “they are spending time on the things they really need to spend time on” and getting more individual attention, she said.

Kenny is a big fan of that, having started out teaching English composition half an hour a week with individual students as opposed to lengthy group classes.

“It was wonderful,” she said.

“You dealt with that student’s particular problems, which was different in every student and is different in every student. I have tried for the rest of my career to sell that model to faculty who complain that it takes too many hours a week to do that.”

 

ASU IS ALSO focusing on the “gateway” initial classes, some of which have withdrawal, D or F rates as high as 64 percent. A student survey found that a low grade-point average in the first semester is a powerful predictor of whether a student goes on to graduate, so more attention will be devoted there and instructors will be given more of a “toolbox” to address student difficulties, Rychly said.

Part of the solution is creating a “community college” with the new university, perhaps in conjunction with East Georgia State College in Swainsboro, to steer some of those students into two-year degree programs, Rychly said.

“What we do know is the data from the (U.S.) De­partment of Labor suggests that a two-year degree is much more valuable economically to a student than is having completed just two years of college, that actually getting that degree makes them more marketable,” she said. “What we also know is students who get associate degrees are more likely to go on and actually complete a bachelor’s degree.”

Another solution would be finding more need-based scholarships for students who are working – 29 percent of ASU’s students work more than 20 hours a week – or caring for family more than 20 hours a week, which was true of 14 percent.

 

THERE SHOULD ALSO be more offerings for those pursuing a degree. When combined, the two universities will have 111 degree programs, compared to 271 at Georgia State University, 474 at the University of Georgia and 141 at Georgia Southern University, GHSU Provost Gretchen Caughman said. The new university is considering offering new bachelor’s degree programs in anthropology and ecology and possible graduate programs that could combine an MBA with a medical or dental degree, she said.

There would be only 14 doctorate programs, most at GHSU, in the new university, compared to 98 at UGA, Caughman said. That has to change, Kenny said.

“If we are to be taken seriously as a research university, we really have to develop graduate programs, doctoral programs, across the spectrum,” she said.

The goal is to reach 12,000 students in the consolidated university, and it will take a lot of new faculty – for every 500 students there need to be 25 faculty members, Rychly said.

There also needs to be more of a focus on providing the type of environment, from on-campus housing and dining to a general atmosphere around town, that will entice students to come to the new university, officials said.

“This university is about the students,” GHSU President Ricardo Azziz said. “That involves the community. The community has to come together and assist us in that student-friendly environment.”

Georgia Regents University has 'long way to go,' ASU interim president says

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