“Momentum Year” Has Potential to Improve Graduation Rates

This semester, the University System of Georgia launched its Momentum Year initiative to improve college completion rates. Momentum Year is part of Complete College Georgia, whose goal is to increase the percentage of Georgians with postsecondary credentials to match the share of jobs that require them. Higher education and access to jobs form a vital part of expanding economic opportunity for all Georgians and keeping the state prosperous and economically competitive.

Momentum Year focuses on setting college students up for success in their first year. The theory behind Momentum Year is to guide students to make decisions during their first year that put them on a clear path to graduation and help them avoid first-year mistakes that heighten the risk they will drop out.

In Georgia’s public colleges and universities, 42 percent of full-time bachelor’s degree students in a given year will not graduate within six years. About 15 percent of freshmen do not return for their sophomore year. The share rises to 20 percent of first-year students who won’t return for their second year once part-time and associate degree students are included.

To improve these numbers, Momentum Year includes the following strategies:

  • Help first-year students choose an Academic Focus Area. An Academic Focus Area is broader than a traditional major. For example, it could be business, humanities, education, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) or health professions. The hope is that by choosing a focus area from the outset, students will find their coursework more relevant and take fewer courses that do not count towards their degree. The university system’s goal is for no student to enter college as “undecided” by next fall.
  • Create a first-year course map to start students off on the right foot. The Momentum Year goal is to structure every student’s first year to include core English and math courses, three courses or nine credit hours in a student’s selected major or academic focus area and a total of 30 credit hours or ten courses in the first year. These elements are correlated with greater likelihood of graduating.
  • Promote a “growth mindset” among students. A growth mindset is the belief that intelligence can be developed and is not a fixed characteristic. Research in educational psychology shows students with a growth mindset are more likely to persist through challenges during their academic careers.

To assist colleges in implementing Momentum Year, the university system awarded Momentum Grants to eight colleges. Schools are taking different approaches to Momentum Year. Examples include making changes to advising, restructuring first-year student orientations and adding early outreach to high school seniors.

The diversity in Momentum Year approaches reflects the diversity within the university system. Georgia’s public colleges include large research universities like the Georgia Institute of Technology to small colleges in rural areas like Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. Students at each school differ by family income, race, ethnicity, age and academic preparation.

One challenge of implementing Momentum Year is making sure every student will benefit from the initiative. Though some colleges have eliminated graduation gaps between black and white students, Georgia college students as a whole still experience large differences in the chances of graduating. The difference between the graduation rates of black and white bachelor’s degree students is greater than 20 percentage points (43 percent compared to 65 percent).

Momentum Year holds the potential to help more Georgia students achieve their goals and graduate from college. GBPI hopes that the initiative will also help narrow graduation rate gaps and benefit students of all backgrounds throughout the state. Georgia can’t afford to lose thousands of college students every year. To move the state forward and build an economy based on educated and skilled workers, we need to invest in all of Georgia’s talent.

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