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Momentum Year initiative to help Complete College Georgia

Abby Nicholson, a limited term faculty member, instructs Francisco Berdecia at the board during a college algebra class. A lower division math class will be examined and redesigned as part of the Momentum Year initiative.

In 2011, the program Complete College Georgia was born.

The initiative's aim was to increase the percentage of Georgia's population with some level of college education from 42 percent to 60 percent by 2020.

The University of North Georgia (UNG) implemented the program in 2011 along with the 15 to Finish initiative, which encourages students to take 15 credit hours each semester to complete two- or four-year degrees on time.

Now, the University System of Georgia (USG) is adding another element. It's called the Momentum Year initiative with three basic concepts of "Start, Enter and Follow."

"Start" has students beginning their college careers by making a purposeful choice in a focus area or program, meaning students should select a major instead of being "undecided."

Dr. Tristan Denley, executive vice chancellor for academic affairs and chief academic officer at USG, explained when students do not have a major course of study or pathway and only take general classes, they become disillusioned with college. When that happens, more than half of the students drop out, Denley said during a visit to UNG in January.

To help students choose, the Momentum Year requires them to pick a meta-major or focus area. For example, if a student thinks he or she may want to be a nurse or physical therapist, then the student could simply choose a focus area in Health Sciences.

Dr. Tom Ormond, provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs, described it as students making a purposeful choice.

"The process starts early during orientation," he said. "We need to streamline the procedure and start guiding students toward a pathway."

Once the meta-major or focus area is selected, the second phase is "Enter." Students should enter college with a productive academic mindset.

Too many students enter college dreading a specific class such as math. Ormond said students think "I can't do mathematics and I'm never going to be able to do it."

UNG's faculty and staff have to turn the negative into a positive by helping students.

"It's having a positive thought about what you are doing," Ormond said. "The mindset of being able to be productive has everything to do with help from the Office of Academic Affairs and the Division of Student Affairs."

The mindset will also focus on faculty and staff helping students find strategies to help them learn material and ultimately be academically successful, said Dr. Eugene Van Sickle, associate department head of History, Anthropology and Philosophy.

The third and final step is "Follow." Students following a clearly sequenced program to success that includes taking one English class, one math class and nine credits in their academic focus area, and completing 30 credits in the first year.

Studies show students who take an English and math class in their first year have a higher rate of success, Denley said.

This plan requires redesigning courses and over the next three years four lower division UNG courses will be examined, one each in English, psychology, mathematics, and history.

"We want to ensure when students go through these courses in the early part of their freshman year, they will do well and get meaning from it," Ormond said. "It will not just be a check off in the box. They should be able to articulate why they do it, instead of why they have to."

Redesigning the courses will be a three-year process. Van Sickle, associate department head of History, Anthropology and Philosophy; and Dr. Chris Barnes, associate dean of academic administration, will coordinate the course-level committee conducting the redesign. The committee will include faculty from English, history, math and psychological science.

"The goal is for us to come up with a better way to teach the students so they learn more in those classes," Van Sickle said. "If we get them off to a better start as freshmen, then that gives us the dividends as sophomores, juniors and seniors. And it will increase the likelihood that they will graduate."

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