Can We Maintain Access at a Research University?: The case of the ASU-GHSU Consolidation (Part III)

By | December 10, 2012

By 2020, 60% of jobs will require higher education; by 2030, it will be close to 75%! And Georgia currently needs to educate and train another 250,000 students to meet this goal. Enhancing access, with commensurate success, will be critical to achieving this goal.

In Parts I and II of this blog we recognized that with consolidation we will become a research university, whose new freshman admission standards will be higher than present-day Augusta State University (ASU). However, we also recognized that we have a duty to our local youth to provide them with the opportunity to obtain a higher education degree. Moreover, this obligation was tied to the somewhat unique situation we currently have in Augusta, where ASU serves not only as a university, but also as the junior or two year college for the locality, since our area does not have such an institution in the immediacy, at least not a University System of Georgia (USG) institution (East Georgia State College is about 75 miles away).

We also noted that five types of students can generally be considered who merit special consideration or facilitated “access”. And we discussed the features of three of these groups of students: (a) students who simply are not yet academically prepared for university, (b) those students who have not completed their requisite high school coursework, and (c) those students who would be better placed in other types of higher education institutions (e.g. East Georgia State College or Augusta Technical College). These three groups of students are those we traditionally understand as needing special consideration for access, and currently account for about 10% of all ASU students. Unfortunately, our success in graduating these students with a marketable degree is quite low, with over 90% never completing their education.

We now review the last two groups of students who merit special consideration, the non-traditional student, and those local students who currently meet the regular ASU admissions criteria, but who eventually would not qualify for regular entrance to the new consolidated comprehensive research university (i.e. “gap” students).

Those very important non-traditional (often part-time and working) students certainly merit special consideration. “Life enrichment” students (as they are often called) by definition are older than 25 years and have been out of high school five or more years at the time of admission. They currently account for about 8% of the ASU student body (considering the Fall 2011 cohort). In addition, a number of more recent high school graduates also choose to attend the university, but only as part-time students. In fact, about 17% of ASU students in the Fall of 2011 were taking only one or two courses per semester.

As someone who obtained both an MPH and an MBA while working full time, I can appreciate the critical importance of providing ready and easily accessible educational opportunities for the continued development and learning of our workforce. Furthermore, life enrichment students bring a level of maturity and life experience that often enhances the quality of the classroom experience.

Facilitating access for these students requires obtaining a clear understanding of their needs. For example, is it best to offer courses at times when the student does not have to be at work (e.g. evenings and weekends) or would some students, perhaps those with children in K-12, prefer to take classes during the daytime? Likewise, some of these students may benefit from additional personal support (e.g. daycare during classes). And how do we facilitate the education and degrees of the military and veteran populations? Enhancing opportunities for them to complete required coursework online and by providing judicious credit for military experience will be paramount to many of these students’ success. And what courses exactly are those most commonly needed?

As our community strives to enhance its educational and skill level, and to continue our support of our armed forces, answering these questions and many others will be critical. 

The final, and the largest group of students deserving special consideration or facilitated access to a university education when we consolidate are those local students who currently meet the regular ASU admissions criteria, but who eventually would not qualify for regular entrance to our new consolidated university. We can call these “gap” students.

First the good news. Over 50% of students being admitted to ASU already have Freshman Indices (FIs) that meet the requirements of a research university (see table below). Another 40% or so, while not meeting the admission standards of a research university, do meet the admission criteria of a regional university (the category following research universities, which includes Georgia Southern and Valdosta State Universities). In fact, only5% of students have FIs that only meet the standards of a state university or below.  

Regular Admission Applicant Breakdown by FI for Fall 2012 (As of August 30, 2012)
USG University Category (FI score) Applied Accepted %Accepted Enrolled %Enrolled
Research (2500+) 782 511 53.96% 451 55.68%
Regional (2040-2499) 711 385 40.65% 311 38.40%
State University (1940-2039) 91 34 3.59% 32 3.95%
State or 2 Year College (1830-1939) 43 13 1.37% 12 1.48%
Below State or 2 Year College (0-1829) 35 4 0.42% 4 0.49%
Total 1,662 947 100.00% 810 100.00%

 

Now for the problem. As we work to create the next great American University and the fourth comprehensive research university in Georgia we must increase our admission standards to meet those of other USG research universities (and other such universities nationwide). But as we do so we will need to identify strategies to provide access to those students that currently would not be eligible for admission to a research university (which is about 45% of students accepted to ASU in 2012).

And we must ensure not only access… but also success!. And I believe with the right support and resources, and the identification of novel and innovative approaches, we can achieve the goals of maximizing access while ensuring success for this group of students.

Firstly, we can raise the standards for regular admission into the new university progressively and slowly (i.e. from an FI score of 1940 currently to 2500), over a period of years (e.g. 5 or 6 years), rather than over a few months. Likewise we can also raise the standard for limited admission (i.e. the lower limit for admission to the new university) progressively the same extended time period (e.g. from an FI score of 1830 currently to 2040).

Secondly, we can admit these “gap” students into a specially designed 60 credit program, which should include close monitoring, enhanced learning support and counseling, while spelling out clear expectations of the students, such as how long students will be allowed to remain within the program and the rate of progression. Of course, the implementation of this strategy will require significant additional resources, but the goal is certainly worthy of investment.

Finally, it will be essential to develop processes and tools to streamline and facilitate the transfer of those “gap” students who successfully complete their 60 credit-hours in the program, into a regular university track (about 120 credit hours are generally required as a minimum for a bachelor’s degree).

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 This three-part blog has addressed a critical element of our consolidation – How we will ensure access – and more importantly success… to those local youth seeking higher education. And we identified a number of potential short-term strategies to achieve this goal, briefly summarized as follows:

  1. We will strive to increase freshman admissions criteria for regular and limited admission gradually over a period of years.
  2. We will work more closely with local high schools to optimize student pre-graduation admission and career counseling, while establishing more robust mentoring and pipeline programs in these schools.
  3. We will encourage students who have not completed their required high school curriculum to complete their missing courses prior to be being accepted to the new university, possibly leveraging enhanced agreements with Augusta Tech and East Georgia State College.
  4. We will explore partnering with other USG institutions with greater experience and focus on those students requiring special access and support, such as East Georgia State College, to establish a satellite campus in Augusta; and may even explore offering a 2-year Associate Degree certificate for the completion of what is currently called the University College program (60 preparatory credit-hours).
  5. We will aim to expand and create a more clearly defined junior college-type experience on campus for local “gap” students (those not meeting the regular admission criteria for regular admission to a research university, but still able to meet admission criteria for a state university), better ensuring their retention, progression, and ultimately transfer into the regular university track.
  6. We will aim to increase the number of need-based scholarships, as close to 50% of students currently requiring facilitated access to ASU also suffer from limited financial resources.
  7. We will have to better understand the needs of the non-traditional student, including those in the active military, to better develop supportive and facilitative strategies and offerings.
  8. We will need to increase our online offerings for a spectrum of students, including those high school students in a dedicated pipeline program.

 

….And we will need to develop robust and effective strategies to improve our student’s graduation success rates. But that is for another day’s discussion.

In concluding, we must remember that we are building the next great American University… for our students, for our local community, for Georgia, for the nation, and for the world. We must strive to ensure excellence, quality, and competitiveness at every turn.

However, we must address the issue of higher education access for our local youth, particularly those initially not able to be admitted into the regular track of the new research university. Doing so will require careful assessment and planning, concerted effort, clear and continuous communication, additional resources, and the full engagement and support of our university faculty and staff, the USG office, and our community.

It’s the right thing. But we should only strive to provide access if it is tied with enhanced success. Otherwise we stand to do more harm than good. And, as for so many other initiatives, while we may not be able to be everything to everybody, we will need to find partners that can help us fill the gaps.

 


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