Dalton State Prepares for ‘Momentum Year’

While this academic year has been a momentous one for Dalton State –we celebrated our 50th anniversary and finally crossed the threshold qualifying us for Hispanic Serving Institution status—it is also the time we have begun planning for the Momentum Year, a new initiative of the University System of Georgia designed to ensure that more incoming students are successful in their first semesters on campus, paving the way to a more productive college experience and timely graduation.

The theory is that if students have a clearer vision at the outset of college, then there will be fewer obstacles along the way to divert them from the path to a degree. Spearheading the initiative is the USG’s new chief academic officer, Dr. Tristan Denley. Dr. Denley has travelled across the state to share the vision with faculty and staff members at each of the system’s 26 colleges and universities, and most recently hosted a Momentum Year Summit attended by each school’s president, vice presidents, and key advisors and other faculty and staff who will implement the strategies on their respective campuses. Needless to say, this is a high priority for the University System of Georgia!

There are five primary components to the Momentum Year plan:

Making a Purposeful Choice: There are more than 26,000 courses offered across the USG platform, so it’s easy to see how students can be overwhelmed by choice paralysis. We need a new choice architecture with large scale groups of disciplines that students can choose from right from the start. They may not know exactly what subject they want to major in, but they most likely have some idea of their general area of interest, whether it rests in the liberal arts or STEM, healthcare, business, or education. The future business leader, for example, may not know if they want to major in accounting or marketing or management or logistics, but they may well know that their future lies within the world of business and not health professions or education. The earlier we can help students identify a broad area of interest, the sooner we can put them on a path to success.

Creating a Productive Academic Mindset: We want all our students to be successful, and part of the formula for success is ensuring that students see purpose to the courses they are taking and how they fit into the bigger picture. We want them to understand that we believe in their ability to learn the material and to encourage their grit and perseverance when the going gets tough, which we know is inevitable. Challenging times are part of every adult’s life.

Attempt the First 30 Hours of a Clear Pathway the First Year: In order to graduate in a timely manner, we’d like to see all our students in their first year, their “momentum year,” earn 30 credit hours (out of the 120 credit hours required for a four-year degree). That can be accomplished in any configuration over fall, spring, and summer semesters. With a solid goal of 30 hours a year, we can graduate more students in a four to six-year window. We know this will be a particularly ambitious goal for our working students, but all students can benefit from taking fuller schedules. We encourage them to push themselves a little harder. If the student taking 6 hours a semester would take 9, the student taking 9 take 12, and the student taking 12 take 15 then they will see more progress sooner and be well on their way to earning their degree. Life happens to us all but it more often derails students who are making slow progress toward their goal of achieving their degree.

Attempting Nine Hours in Academic Focus Area: Rather than approach the first year as simply checking off core course requirements, we want our students to jump in and begin taking courses that are relevant to their academic area of interest. We’d like for them to take at least three courses – 9 credit hours—in their chosen academic field during the first year. We believe there is more opportunity for engagement when students see a direct relationship between the courses they are taking and their future career path.

Complete Initial English and Math the First Year: Data tells us that the student who successfully passes freshman English and math their first year of college is 10 times more likely to graduate within six years than one who passes neither, and two times more likely to graduate than the student who passes one or the other. We want all our students to have that advantage, and so we will push hard to have those required courses completed the first year.

Each of these strategies will produce improvement in student success, but all of them taken together will result in helping our students gain momentum during that critical first year of college. By the year 2025, at least 60 percent of the jobs in the state of Georgia will require some kind of higher education credential. We must find ways to ensure that more of our students each year make it to the finish line, and graduate with a degree in northwest Georgia.