Founded as a commuter school that once attracted primarily white businessmen, Georgia State University in recent years has reimagined its mission to become “one of the South’s more innovative engines of social mobility,” according to the New York Times. In the last five years, the Atlanta-based institution has awarded more bachelor’s degrees to African-Americans than any other nonprofit U.S. college or university, despite its location in a state with one of the worst high school graduation rates for African-American males.
Georgia State was kept segregated by race until the 1960s, but now “is serving as an inspiration” for the same Historically Black Colleges and Universities that arose when Georgia’s public institutions shunned Black students pursuing post-secondary education. Noting that Georgia State a decade ago “lacked an identity,” Mark P. Becker, university president, and Timothy M. Renick, a former professor who now serves as senior vice president for student success, say the institution has made an effort to retain low-income students, instead of just enrolling them.
Among its efforts, Georgia State has introduced initiatives like a seven-week program that offered advising and tutoring for students that might not necessarily have the same support system at home that wealthier students would have. It also provides small micro-grants to students facing unpaid fees that could potentially derail their progress. The university takes a data-driven approach to student success, tracking more than 40,000 undergraduates daily to flag and address potential academic issues.
“We really became comfortable with saying we’re not about being the next University of Georgia or Chapel Hill,” Renick told the Times. Instead of chasing those schools’ applicant pools, Georgia State decided to “find new ways to support the students who we do enroll, and who come to us in great numbers.” With this change, the university raised its graduation rate to 54 percent in 2017 from 32 percent in 2003.
Obie Clayton, a sociologist at Clark Atlanta University, a Historically Black College, told the Times that his institution has adopted several of Georgia State’s approaches to undergraduate support. “I think everyone in higher education is paying attention,” he said.