Georgia State University Closes Achievement Gaps In Graduation, Retention Rates At Perimeter College

Staff Report From Metro Atlanta CEO

Thursday, February 21st, 2019

The graduation rate at Georgia State University’s Perimeter College has more than doubled over the past three years and the rate of Perimeter students either successfully earning their associate degrees or transferring to bachelor’s degree programs is at a record 58 percent.

Perimeter College, which offers two-year associate degree programs, became part of Georgia State during consolidation with Georgia Perimeter College in 2016.

Since consolidation, Perimeter College’s three-year graduation rate has improved from 6.5 percent to 15 percent. The gap between the graduation rates of black and white students has been halved, and now white, Latino, and Pell Grant students all graduate at the same rate. The previous record for Perimeter students earning their associate degrees or transferring to bachelor’s degree programs was 51 percent.

At the outset of the consolidation process, the university wanted to find ways boost student success at Perimeter College campuses, just as it used innovative approaches at the Atlanta Campus.

One approach includes Freshman Learning Communities (FLCs). FLCs are groups of 25 first-year students enrolled together in the same set of four or five courses, as well as a university orientation course. Each FLC focuses on a specific career pathway such as business, education or STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), and exposes students to the nature of the field.

FLCs at Georgia State’s Atlanta Campus prior to the consolidation with Perimeter College have been part of Georgia State’s rise as a national leader in student success. Students enrolled in FLCs downtown have had higher retention and graduation rates, and higher GPAs. They  graduate in less time and have retained the HOPE Scholarship at higher rates.

Perimeter students participating in FLCs during the fall 2018 semester had a higher retention rate into the spring 2019 semester by nearly 7 percentage points, had higher grade point averages at the end of the semester, took more credit hours and earned more credits toward their degrees.

“Perimeter students are very good candidates for the kind of benefits that come with learning communities,” said Timothy M. Renick, senior vice president for student success. “Nationally, first-generation college students drop out at higher rates during their first year, and one of the reasons they drop out is because they may feel that they don’t belong in college or fit in.”

At large institutions, the effect can be magnified, he said.

“Left up to chance, you could very well take four or five classes your first semester and never see the same face twice in any of your classes,” Renick said. “The learning communities help students build up a support system of friends, study partners and mentors.”

Thanks to Georgia State’s Learning, Income and Family Transformation (LIFT) program, supported by State Farm and the DeKalb County School System, the university piloted FLCs at the Perimeter campus in Decatur during the 2017-18 academic year.

Together with the program’s Summer Success Academy, Decatur LIFT participants in 2017-18 had a one-year retention rate 20 percentage points higher than non-participants and earned nearly 14 more credit hours over their first 12 months of college than their peers. As a result, FLCs were scaled up across all Perimeter campuses for the 2018-19 academic year.

“We weren’t surprised that the students in learning communities did better, because we were expecting that, but we were surprised by how much better they did,” Renick said. “The impacts were immediate and significant. We seem to be seeing the same encouraging outcomes that we see at the Atlanta Campus in the context of Perimeter campuses.”