Recruit & Retain (University of North Georgia)

Bucking the Trend

In early 2012, the University System of Georgia (USG) Board of Regents recommended the consolidation of eight institutions into four, paving the way for the creation of the University of North Georgia (UNG) on Jan. 8, 2013, from North Georgia College & State University (NGSCU) and Gainesville State College (GSC). Combining NGCSU, a selective admission, four-year institution and one of only six senior military colleges in the nation, with GSC, a successful two-year, liberal arts-focused, access institution, has created a “multi-pathway powerhouse” that is a unique model in higher education. With 16,000 students attending four campuses across northeast Georgia and led by a single administration, UNG is the only one of the four original consolidated institutions that has consistently increased enrollment.

History of Success

Both NGSCU and GSC were strong institutions, creating a solid foundation upon which to build a consolidated university. During eight years of steady enrollment growth, NGSCU boosted the freshman retention rate and strategically increased its academic standing by analyzing students who persisted to degree completion and modifying admission requirements to enroll students who were academically prepared for the rigorous curriculum. The resulting rise in the freshman class average positioned NGSCU third in the USG behind two research universities, a statistic that holds true for UNG’s baccalaureate-seeking students. GSC embraced its access mission and provided an exceptional learning support curriculum and intentional academic services, including supplemental instruction, to achieve strong transfer and graduation rates.

Building Relationships

Bringing together two traditionally different, but not mutually exclusive, student populations required employing a tremendous amount of relationship building. Consolidation presented the additional challenge of blending two distinct cultures. UNG developed a communication plan focused on a unique range of educational pathways, from associate degrees to graduate-level programs and an array of opportunities that help develop students into leaders. The plan is anchored in creating conversations with students, parents and high school counselors using face-to-face, email, social media and phone communication to introduce the new institutional brand and opportunities. This high-touch relationship building can be challenging for a university that has suddenly grown to 16,000. Through a commitment to retaining the small-community feel that was the hallmark of both pre-consolidated institutions, students’ pre-enrollment commitment to UNG is more quickly solidified and retention is positively impacted by providing students with a consistent point-of-contact.

Multiple Pathways to Success

Consolidation has created a multi-pathway powerhouse where students have a variety of pathways into and through UNG. Students can enroll in an associate or baccalaureate degree program, transfer in, or seek certification in designated programs and through graduate work. GSC previously provided the largest number of transfer students to NGCSU; now, these students are internal transfers (transitioning students), necessitating a new approach to facilitating student transfer. By assessing students’ readiness through their academic profile and talking about their current situation and career aspirations, UNG recommends pathways for each student to be successful.

Enrollment growth across four campuses is a blend of recruiting a solid class of new students while attending to the needs of current students to increase retention. A more complex student body requires creative interventions, including new software. UNG recently implemented the Nighthawk Registration System, which provides students with the best “schedule shopping” experience during registration. The tool also gives administrators real-time course demand information and allows advisors to focus on advising students versus building schedules. This system is being coupled with the student’s program of study to help eliminate extra courses, save tuition and allow earlier entry into the job market or graduate school. The Office of Enrollment Management is also using software to better identify students at-risk of leaving the institution and collaborating with departments across campus to develop appropriate interventions.

The consolidation process can be stressful, creating anxiety for new and continuing students. However, by maintaining a student-centered focus and being open to new processes, the whole institution can become stronger.

This article originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Authors

Jennifer Chadwick is associate vice president for enrollment management at the University of North Georgia.

Janet L. Marling, Ph.D., is vice president for student affairs at the University of North Georgia and the executive director of the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students.

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