School of Transitional Studies supports student success

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Graduate holding diploma
Georgia Gwinnett was literally built from the ground up for student success, no matter the level of student preparation. GGC’s access mission means it enrolls many students who would not be accepted at selective institutions, as they are among the least prepared for college. They may be the first in their families to go to college. They may not have performed well in high school. They might need help mastering core skills.

The School of Transitional Studies (STS) provides tools to ensure students have every opportunity to succeed. As STS dean, Dr. Barry Biddlecomb greets this responsibility with enthusiasm and purpose.

By 2020, more than 60 percent of Georgia jobs will require a certificate or an associate or bachelor degree. At this time, only about 42 percent of the state’s young adults are prepared to such a level. To remain competitive, Georgia must not only maintain current graduation levels, but must also produce about 250,000 additional college graduates in upcoming years.

Dr. Barry Biddlecomb admits that he can become emotional when watching GGC students walk across the commencement stage to receive their diplomas.

“I know how hard they worked to earn their degrees. And I know that GGC made a difference in helping them achieve their goals. That would not have been possible for them at many other institutions.”

– Dr. Barry Biddlecomb, dean, School of Transitional Studies

Davette Harvey helps a student
Davette Harvey, an Academic Enhancement Center tutor, helps a student with her mathematics.

Governor Nathan Deal’s Complete College Georgia initiative targets the need to increase the proportion of young adults with post-secondary education. As an access institution, GGC is positioned to significantly contribute to the state’s goals.

“High-performing students will likely always complete college,” said Biddlecomb. “Any increase in the number of people with college degrees must come from other students who, historically, might not have attended or completed college. They are the reason our access mission exists.”

Critical to Complete College Georgia is the rate of student retention and progression toward completing a degree. While multiple Georgia Gwinnett initiatives and practices support Complete College Georgia, every function within STS contributes to the cause.

“Our model helps students build success in their academic, personal and professional lives,” Biddlecomb said. “However, all students are held to the same standards, and are expected to be independent learners and responsible for their education and personal growth.”

The college commits about $5 million annually toward STS’ services:

Adviser counseling student
Nancy Ciudad-Simmons, an advisor in the college’s new Advising Center, consults with a student.
  • NEW STUDENT CONNECTIONS includes GGC’s required Bear Essentials new student orientation program, that introduces students to the college.
  • TESTING SERVICES places students into appropriate courses and provides standardized tests such as CLEP, Georgia Assessments for the Certification of Educators and others.
  • STUDENT SUCCESS pre-college courses taught by specially trained instructors prepare students for college-level courses. This includes mathematics, English and reading, as well as English for Academic Purposes for students for whom English is not their primary language.
  • THE ACADEMIC ENHANCEMENT CENTER‘S (AEC) staff of about 50 provide tutoring in the library and Building B. The Tutors Around Campus program takes service to common areas in Building B, Building A and the residence halls. Tutors in the Classroom assist faculty during classes and Tutoring Online Everywhere is available 24/7. Tutoring is offered to all students.
  • Because of a generous $250,000 gift from Greg and Tammy Shumate, STS recently opened an ADVISING CENTER. The center provides mentoring and advising for students taking Student Success pre-college courses. Of its 679 advisees enrolled for fall 2013, 92.6% returned for spring semester.
Transitional Studies Report card
Select image for text version (PDF).

“GGC’s 82.5 percent first-year, fall-to-spring retention rate for all first-year students is remarkable, particularly for an access institution, but these advisees are at high risk for not progressing in their studies,” Biddlecomb said. “A 92.6 percent retention rate is tremendous.”

Of the Advising Center’s total 1,071 advisees for 2013-14, most completed their courses, and many did well. For example, when one student was failing MATH 0099 at mid-term, his advisor coached him on how to communicate with his professor and create a plan to improve his performance. The student not only passed, he earned a B.

The center’s Grizzly Renewal Opportunity Workshop (GROW) allowed students who had been academically suspended after fall to attend spring semester with fewer courses and specific expectations designed to help them progress. Of 50 GROW students, 10 successfully exited the program and another 15 are eligible to continue.

The AEC’s staff includes professionals with bachelor and master degrees. Some are retired faculty, former teachers or volunteers. The AEC also provides some student peer tutors.

“Some of our tutors are current faculty,” Biddlecomb said. “And of course, our faculty are great about tutoring their students when needed.”

For students still struggling, but motivated to do better, the college will hire personal tutors. “As long as the student puts forth the effort, we will do whatever we can to help them. Every student matters.” Biddlecomb says.

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