GGC Seeks to Buck Low Retention Trends with "TLC"

It’s no secret that retention and graduation rates at the nation’s colleges and universities have been far from stellar, however, the state’s newest four-year public college—Georgia Gwinnett College—seeks to buck that trend with an aggressive and integrated “student success” strategy aptly known as “TLC.”

It’s no secret that retention and graduation rates at the nation’s colleges and universities have been far from stellar, however, the state’s newest four-year public college—Georgia Gwinnett College—seeks to buck that trend with an aggressive and integrated “student success” strategy aptly known as “TLC.”

At GGC, which begins its second year August 20 with its first freshman class, TLC stands for “Tomorrow’s Learning Community.” But it may as well stand for “Tender Loving Care,” because that’s what’s being doled out in excess at this innovative campus, where words like “community,” “support,” and “relationships” are much more than marketing terms—they are the very foundation on which the new college is being built.

“If you don’t engage students in the first few weeks of college life, you’re not going to retain them,” says Dr. Mary Greiss-Shipley, director of student success programs at GGC. “Our students have come to us from high schools where their parents did everything for them, so that first year it’s critical that we help them navigate college. If they don’t connect, they’ll lose interest, disengage, and dropout. We help them connect and grow and mature.”

When a student is accepted at GGC, he or she becomes an integral part of Tomorrow’s Learning Community. “This goes far beyond going to class,” says Dr. Christopher Brandon Jr., professor of biology and head of the College’s orientation program. “It’s a way of building friendships and establishing relationships with faculty throughout the academic program and throughout the student’s journey at GGC. In doing this, the student develops a strong support network with faculty that will provide the tools necessary to succeed in college and beyond.”

TLC is designed to provide an underlying support structure that travels with each student throughout his or her time at the institution. There’s an entire office at the College dedicated to TLC, and there are four components of the proactive support strategy that make it work. The first of those is SMART: “Student Mentoring, Advising, Registration, and Testing.” In this phase, once a student is accepted, he is paired with a faculty mentor who sees that student through the advisement and registration process, and makes sure placement tests are taken, if needed, and a course schedule is confirmed.

“As faculty mentors, we are focused on the whole student,” insists Brandon. “That means not only helping with class schedules, but also caring about the student as a person. Is he adapting to the college way of life? What problems is she having? How can we help?”

This hands-on approach has been woven into the very fabric of the college since its earliest planning stages, and everyone on board seems genuinely enthused about the community that is forming as a result. “The freshman year is so critical,” says Dr. Holly Haynes, a multi-degree Harvard grad and psychology professor at GGC. “That’s the time when you connect or disconnect to college. I am absolutely excited about the first-year experience we have planned for our students.”

The next phase of TLC is new student orientation, also known as “TouchPoint,” which helps students make the smooth transition to GGC. Students choose one of three orientation days to visit campus, hear an inspiring message from President Daniel J. Kaufman, learn about the remarkable technology on campus, review specific graduation requirements, enjoy a catered barbecue lunch with peers and professors, and check out the new student clubs.

In the afternoon, students attend breakout sessions to learn more about the career services, library, and student support services available to them. Parents are invited to participate in breakout sessions on financial aid, campus safety, and other pertinent topics. Orientation culminates the day before classes begin with Sunday Funday, when everyone within the GGC community, including family members and friends, are invited to an informal picnic on campus.

When classes start up, students are required to take the First-Year Seminar as part of the “Welcome and Transition” phase of TLC. Here, they learn about helpful study skills and organization techniques, building relationships, and participating in out-of-class projects, including service-learning endeavors in the Gwinnett community. The “Integration” stage of TLC offers activities that enable students to solidify the new relationships they’ve formed with faculty and peers while also learning to think critically and explore new ideas. Experiences like these have altered the course of some students’ lives.

“I went from thinking of my education only as a piece of paper that will make me more valuable to thinking of it as something that will also make me a better, more well-rounded and educated person,” says business major Rico Torres. “As a transfer student, I came from the bottom of the barrel, graduating from a two-year institution with a 1.96 grade point average (GPA) and a degree that felt meaningless. GGC took a chance on me and over one year I’ve turned into a student with a 3.5 GPA and a true passion for my education, and my future. The things the administration, faculty, and staff are doing are incredible.”

Rico is just one of many students whose lives have proved that a little TLC from Georgia Gwinnett College goes a long way.

Applications are still being accepted for the fall 2007 semester.

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