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Georgia State study aids in eliminating academic gaps for first generation college students

Because of academic gaps, low income students tend to struggle in college. However, according to a recent study conducted at Georgia State, the graduate rates are increasing and the time spent on degrees is decreasing. Photo By Hannah Greco | The Signal

Georgia State has recently conducted a research study that highlights and looks to resolve the academic gaps and institutional bias present in the university.

Georgia State’s Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Success Dr. Timothy Renick introduced a research study in 2011 centered around eliminating academic gaps in institutions by alerting students as soon as they are seen to be in “potential trouble.” The study was recently granted a four-year $8.9 million grant from the United States Department of Education.

One major gap Renick focuses on is “institutional bias”, which he defined as institutions unintentionally favoring some students over others due to socioeconomic and ethnic background. He said that financial aid is a prime example of this bias.

“While applying for financial aid is complicated for all students, this fact disproportionately impacts low-income and first generation students who often lack a support system to help them navigate the system,” Renick said.

Lower-income and first generation students have a harder time with academic progress due to the lack of knowledgeable relatives and peers to support and guide them. According to Renick, the study proved that if Georgia State can provide this support, low-income and first generation students would succeed at higher rates.

The study included analyzing a total of 2.5 million grades, in order to identify specific patterns of students’ actions that correlated to their failing grades. According to the New Jersey Herald, students’ grades and test scores were analyzed to pinpoint those who were in academic trouble and get them guidance in a timely manner.

“We found over 800 ‘risk factors’ for every Georgia State undergraduate,” Renick said. “The risk identified can be as simple as a student signing up for a course that does not apply to his or her degree program or a student underperforming in a prerequisite course.”

Renick said that in most cases, many students did not signal for help until they had already received multiple D’s and F’s or were already on academic probation.

“In 2011, we conducted an analysis of student visits to offices of academic advising at Georgia State and found that many students were not reaching out for help until it was too late,” Renick said. “We wanted a system that would identify students who were having academic difficulties at the first sign of the problem, so that we could have a better chance of helping.”

Renick and his research team seem to be making significant strides in helping improve student success at Georgia State as well as aiding in the eliminating of academic gaps.

According to the Hechinger Report, more African-American students graduate from Georgia State with a Bachelor’s degree than at any nonprofit college or university in the United States.

Renick also said that within the last year, Georgia State’s black, hispanic, first generation and low-income students all graduated at rates at or above the rate of the total student body.

“Since we launched the project five years ago, we are graduating 1,700 more students every year,” said Renick. “And the average student is taking half a semester less to earn their Bachelor’s degree.”

With the system in place some current and past Georgia State students have said that they benefited from its implementation. First generation college student and Georgia State Alum Carl McCray said his academic advisors were the support system that he needed.

“I do believe I had tremendous support from my academic advisors. They were usually a little more proactive,” McCray said.

Sophomore and first generation college student Abigail Vanderwolf said the college process is a new and first-time experience for not just her, but for her whole family. She felt that Georgia State supplied her with the resources and support she needed.

“In college, everything is your own responsibility, but my advisors and professors were always there to help, when I needed it,” Vanderwolf said.

Georgia State is the lead institute for the four-year grant research study, however according to Renick, at least 10 more institutes are involved in the study. In addition to Georgia State, Ohio State University, the University of Texas at Austin, Iowa State University, Michigan State University, Purdue University, Arizona State University, the University of Central Florida, the University of Kansas, Oregon State University and the University of California at Riverside are also a part of the research.

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