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What Gets Me Up Every Morning

By Meital Caplan
January 27, 2017

Dr. Tim Renick is Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Success, Vice Provost, and Professor of Religious Studies at Georgia State University. Since 2008, he has overseen the university’s enrollment and student success programs. During this time period, Georgia State University has set records for the number and percent of underrepresented students enrolled and graduating from college, including graduating more black students every year than any other nonprofit school in the U.S. (1,777 in 2015). Dr. Renick joined OneGoal Metro Atlanta’s Board of Directors in 2016.

The reality is that there are differences in the types of students you find on a college campus today. There are some students for whom no matter what kind of academic, financial or even legal mistakes they make, their long-term life prospects won’t be jeopardized. These students have an invisible support system of families, friends and other resources to swoop in and make sure that everything is going to be ok.

Then there are the students who have college as their one shot of success, and if they make one misstep it’s very clear what will happen: they end up dropping out and severely limiting their future opportunities.

What stepping onto the Georgia State campus 20 years ago and working with thousands of students has showed me is that institutions could—and need to—play a much larger role in supporting students and closing the achievement gap.

We’ve taken on that challenge at Georgia State in our expansion of supports—like predictive-analytics-based interventions—and I’ve personally strengthened my commitment to this goal by joining OneGoal – Metro Atlanta’s Board of Directors.

Fundamentally changing educational systems takes time, but I’ve seen that it is possible. A decade ago, Georgia State’s graduation rate for African American males was only 16 percent; but this past year, that graduation rate was at 56 percent. This growth occurred because the institution invested in the technologies and support systems that can proactively intervene when a student is found at risk of dropping out.

Likewise, OneGoal acknowledges that our current educational system is not set up to help all students succeed, and has invested in the methodology and technology to help students overcome these obstacles.

One example that comes to mind is applying for federal financial aid. If you file taxes the traditional way, then the application is pretty straightforward. But if your situation deviates in any way—maybe your guardian is a grandparent—then the government requests all sorts of documentation to validate your experience. Managing the college process is difficult enough for the average seventeen-year-old student, let alone a student from a low-income and low-resourced community who is expected to provide additional verification of guardianship, financial dependence, and so on. It’s embarrassing, but it’s also beyond what the average seventeen-year-old knows how to navigate and deal with. So in many cases the student just says, “Ok, I guess I’m not going to college.”

OneGoal’s model, curriculum and training provides teachers and students with the tools and guidance to overcome these extra hurdles, so that not going to college isn’t the default option. That’s what OneGoal is all about: placing itself in the student perspective and serving as a guide and advocate for the students as they navigate the college application and persistance process, whatever their situation. That can make all the difference between earning a college degree and never making it onto a college graduation stage.

I’m excited to see that postsecondary institutions like Georgia State, K-12 institutions like the Atlanta Public School system and organizations like OneGoal and Achieve Atlanta are all collaborating to empower each other’s work and bring about transformative results.

It is in our power to make a change and make a difference. Not just incrementally, but by tripling and quadrupling our graduation rates in a 10-year period.

Imagine what it would look like if we accomplished that not only in one institution across our metro areas, but across all of our public school systems and across all of our postsecondary institutions. Imagine how much better, how much healthier and how much stronger we would be. I believe that this is possible and that’s what gets me up every morning.