University’s complete college Georgia plan combines strengths to boost graduation rates

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DAHLONEGA, Ga. — Gov. Nathan Deal announced a statewide initiative last year to increase the numbers of Georgians completing college, and today he rolled out those plans from each of the state’s public higher education institutions.

A 2011 study by Georgetown University found that to meet projected workforce needs, Georgia will need to increase the percentage of its population with some level of college completion from a current 42 percent to 60 percent over the next eight years. The result is an ambitious goal of adding 250,000 postsecondary graduates to Georgia’s workforce by 2020.

“I am pleased with the great partnership that is evident in this critical effort for Georgia’s future,” said Gov. Deal in the announcement from his office. “I issued an ambitious call for action, and the response has been swift and comprehensive. This is exactly what I expected and what Georgians want in terms of a flexible and responsive public higher education system that is truly focused on meeting the needs of the state.”

North Georgia College & State University and Gainesville State College, which are scheduled to consolidate in January 2013, developed a combined plan for the University of North Georgia (UNG)* that builds on existing efforts at each institution to promote student success and increase retention and graduation rates.

“Building upon our existing successes and strengths, the new University of North Georgia and our Complete College Georgia plan have the potential to transform educational attainment in the northern part of the state, making Northeast Georgia region one of the most vibrant and dynamic areas in Georgia and the Southeast,” said Dr. Bonita C. Jacobs, president of North Georgia College & State University. “With four campuses located across the northern region of the state, and through partnerships with local educational agencies, government, and industry, the University of North Georgia will be strategically situated to address the critical need for an educated workforce for economic growth in the region.”

The state’s initiative looks at three key areas in which higher education plays a role in the state’s economic prosperity and assesses how colleges and universities can strengthen contributions in these areas. These include keeping Georgia competitive in an age where other states and countries are producing a more educated workforce; ensuring the academic quality and standards to which graduates and institutions are held; and providing the opportunity to pursue higher education and supporting student success through the effective use of resources.

The plan for the University of North Georgia addresses five major strategies: improving college readiness through K-12 partnerships; expanding access and completion, particularly for underserved populations; reducing the time it takes to earn a college degree; developing new models of instruction and learning; and transforming remediation.

“In approaching the goal of raising the level of degree completion, our two institutions start from positions of academic strength and excellence,” said Dr. Al Panu, GSC Vice President for Academic Affairs, who will lead the implementation of UNG’s Complete College Georgia Plan. “North Georgia maintains the second-highest system-wide graduation and retention rate in the comprehensive university sector of the University System of Georgia. GSC ranks slightly above average in associates degree completion or matriculation to a baccalaureate program and is second in its sector for system wide retention performance. It also has one of the system’s most successful transfer rates to comprehensive, regional, and research universities in the state college sector.”

In addition to encouraging current students to stay in school and complete their degrees, Complete College Georgia will target the approximately 1.4 million Georgians who at some point enrolled, but never completed college. Universities will look at different ways to use technology and online learning to attract students, opportunities to facilitate transfer between schools, and the use of prior learning assessment to give college credits to those who have significant life experiences that traditionally have not been factored into a student’s potential.

“In the University System, we have placed a high priority on increasing retention and graduation rates for a number of years, and we have a history of both System-level and institutional efforts toward this goal,” said Chancellor Hank Huckaby. “But with Complete College Georgia, we saw a great opportunity to not only strengthen our partnerships with the Technical College System and Department of Education but also to think more comprehensively and differently about how we approach college completion.”

The full Complete College Georgia report is available online at: http://www.usg.edu/educational_access/documents/USG_Campus_Completion_Plans.pdf. The Complete College Plan for the soon-to-be University of North Georgia may be found at www.gscngcsu.org (direct link - http://www.gscngcsu.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/North-Georgia-CCG-Plan.pdf).