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$2.1 million federal grant to fund new program for freshmen

2018-10-24-UniversityFundingGrant
Dr. Robert Robinson, director of Multicultural Student Affairs (MSA) at the University of North Georgia, welcomes students to an MSA event during the Weeks of Welcome. A new $2.1 million federal grant will establish a Success Oriented Academic Reform program to build on the success of other programs such as orientation, Weeks of Welcome and academic advising.

The University of North Georgia (UNG) recently received a federal grant of more than $2.1 million to establish a new program that will build on the success of orientation, Weeks of Welcome and academic advising programs.

By meeting the eligibility requirements, UNG plans to establish a Success Oriented Academic Reform (SOAR) program on all five campuses.

"This grant will allow UNG to design a holistic approach of engaging students in their first year by helping them with their academics and adjustments to the college experience," said Carol Adams, associate vice president and dean of University College.

Formed through a partnership between UNG's Divisions of Student Affairs and Academic Affairs, SOAR's focus is to help freshmen integrate into the college life and know the resources at their disposal.

"The idea is, after orientation and Weeks of Welcome, we help the students learn about UNG and know about the services our institution has," Adams said. "The concept is to establish a multifaceted and multidepartment approach to increase retention by improving students' engagement and a sense of belonging."

Awarded by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), the Title III-Strengthening Institutions Program (SIP) will allocate $2,125,251 to UNG over the next five years. Established by the No Child Left Behind legislation, SIP helps post-secondary schools expanded the capacity to serve low-income students by providing funds to improve and strengthen their academic quality, institutional management, and fiscal stability, as well as build a framework to help students complete college, said Yolanda Carr, director of grants and contracts at UNG.

"In order for institutions to be eligible for funds under the SIP, institutions must serve a substantial number of students receiving need-based federal student aid," she said.

According to the grant proposal's abstract, UNG will reach the following goals by Sept. 20, 2022. They are to:

  • Increase student engagement from 74 percent to 84 percent
  • Increase first-to-second-year retention from 71 percent to 83 percent
  • Decrease changes in major fields of study from 55 percent to 45 percent
  • Increase second-to-third-year retention from 51 percent to 66 percent

To accomplish these goals, UNG plans to expand the number of professional academic advisers and hire academic success coaches. These personnel additions will help guide freshmen in choosing a degree path, major and courses.

"This grant will allow UNG to build on the exceptional work of academic advising and the Quality Enhancement Plan," Adams said.

SOAR will also fund the creation of an app to help guide students through their first year and provide them with the locations of student resources, such as the Student Money Management Center, Student Counseling, Tutoring Services, Supplemental Instruction, and Financial Aid and Scholarships to name a few.

Freshmen also will have peer mentors.

"Freshmen look to other students to answer questions that they may not feel comfortable asking faculty and staff," Adams said.

The SOAR program's implementation is scheduled for spring 2019. But the first step is designing the program and hiring personnel, Adams said.

The timing of the federal grant could not have been better. The SOAR program aligns with current statewide student success initiatives.

"SOAR dovetails well with Momentum Year," Adams said. "This allows UNG to enhance that initiative and Complete College Georgia, because we are all working to the same goal of helping students succeed and graduate."

Momentum Year calls on freshmen to choose a meta-major or focus area, such as visual arts, business, education, health sciences, mathematics, and environmental and spatial analysis. Freshmen are also encouraged to complete 30 credits — at least one math, one English and nine credits in their meta-major — in the first academic year.

Complete College Georgia's aim is to increase the percentage of Georgia's population with some level of college education from 42 percent to 60 percent by 2020. It was implemented 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 degree on time.

"UNG's mission is one that puts students first, and the SOAR program will enhance that mission," said Andy Novobilski, associate provost for research and engagement and chief research officer.

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