Highlander EDGE Cuts a Wide Swath On Gordon State’s Campus

The first class of freshmen to benefit from Gordon State College’s Highlander EDGE initiative arrived on Gordon’s campuses in early August.

EDGE stands for the qualities that set Gordon State graduates apart: Engaged Innovators, Dedicated Scholars, Gifted Communicators, Ethical Leaders.

GSC’s Highlander EDGE initiative is an intentional aligning of a variety of existing Gordon State student success and engagement initiatives with new programming coming out of the University System of Georgia’s newer Momentum Year effort, which focuses primarily on the crucial first—or “momentum”—year, according to GSC Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Jeffery Knighton.  

By aligning existing initiatives with the Momentum Year work, GSC hopes to leverage its resources and build a structure that supports engagement and success from the time students first set foot on campus for orientation up through the time they walk across Lambdin Green to receive their diplomas.

“We fully expect to see almost immediate increases in retention and progression rates, and, ultimately, further down the road, a corresponding rise in graduation rates,” Knighton said.

Although Gordon State has long offered academic support and student engagement programs like walk-in tutoring; Supplemental Instruction; an Always Alert academic warning system; a robust Honors Program; opportunities for undergraduates to work independently or with faculty on research projects; and study abroad programs, in Spring 2018 the college dove headfirst into the USG’s Momentum Year wave.

The three principles of the Momentum Year are to help new students make a purposeful choice about their academic major or pathway; to encourage students to complete 30 hours in their first-year, including their core curriculum English and Math classes and three other classes in a broad focus area; and to help students develop an academic mindset. Data show that students who accomplish all three of these principles have six-year graduation rates about 19 percentage points higher than students who take fewer hours and put off Math and English until later in their academic careers.

In addition to being more likely to graduate, such students save almost $5,000 in tuition and fees on their journey to graduation.

“Last Fall, we were one of only six USG schools to win a $10,000 Momentum Year Grant,” Knighton said. “We used the money to completely rebuild our New Student Orientations for this past summer, making the orientation day’s focus an academic advising session to insure that students were fully informed about the majors they were choosing to pursue. Also, in the past we felt that the orientations had devolved into registration events, so we removed schedule-making from the orientation program so that we focus on purposeful choice and connecting students to campus resources and campus culture.”

By having advising staff build schedules after each orientation, GSC increased the percentage of first-year students enrolled in 15 or more hours—including core curriculum English and math—from 30.6 percent in Fall 2017 to 61.06 percent in Fall 2018, which, as Knighton notes, sets them up nicely to complete 30 hours by the end of the Spring 2019 semester, and bodes well for their future success.

In addition, GSC completely redesigned its first-year seminar. Now all first-year students must take FIRE (Freshman Introduction to Reasoning Essentials) 1000, a two-credit core curriculum class which focuses on helping students develop growth mindsets, critical thinking skills, and a sense of social belonging.

Although the Highlander EDGE is freshly forged, Knighton shares that it is already drawing attention.

“Last week, Peter Higgins, Assistant Vice-President for Academic Excellence, and I were asked to deliver a presentation at the University System of Georgia’s annual Advising Academy, talking about the Highlander EDGE, rebuilding our new student orientation from scratch, and our new FIRE class. Since the presentation, we have gotten multiple requests from administrators at other state colleges for more information about the work we did over the course of the last year.”

Even if the EDGE proves to be as successful as expected, don’t expect to Gordon State to be satisfied.

“We’ll always be looking to sharpen the EDGE we can give our students,” Higgins said.