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Innovation and Incubator Grants from the University System of Georgia

Understanding the Challenges for Second-Year College Students in Our Institutions

Dalton State College


Grant Type: 
Project Lead: 
Barbara G. Tucker
Interim Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs
Other team members: 

Dale Kelly, Advisor and Internship Coordinator
School of Business
Dalton State College

Project Overview: 

While significant attention is paid to the needs of first-year students in higher education, students returning for the second year face challenges that may not be recognized by institutions.  These challenges, as discussed by Schaller (2010) involve academic self-efficacy (personal belief that the student can be successful in a particular task), doubts about major and major changes, motivation, values (including the search for meaning and purpose), faculty contact, and finances.  This proposal seeks to convene appropriate parties from each regional institution to discuss ways to understand the needs and issues experienced by second-year students in particular schools and programs.

Potential impact of Capacity symposium results: 

First, to begin an investigation about student attrition in the second year, specifically students who return for the second year but do not finish it.  Second, to define key terms and issues appropriate for each institution.  Third, to begin searches for reasonable action steps based on evidence.  Fourth, to explore ways that those action steps could be pursued in a cost-efficient way and at scale.

Project Description: 

The proposed meeting has the potential to address several goals and substrategies of the Complete College Georgia program.  Because it seeks to find out potential barriers to student progression in the second year, it specifically addresses persistence.  (It should be noted that “sophomore” traditionally refers to students returning for second full-time year of college.  Since in many of our institutions students are part-time, returning, or nontraditional age, this proposal seeks to define sophomore for each institution and takes a milestone approach, i.e., completion of learning support, number of hours completed, nonacceptance into a selective major) rather than only chronological years at the institution.

Goal 2: Increase the number of degrees that are earned “on time” (associate degrees in 2 years, bachelor’s degrees in 4 years). 

Goal 3:   Decrease excess credits earned on the path to getting a degree.

Changing majors unnecessarily is a significant cause for excess credit accumulation and “fall-through” courses that impede completion in a timely manner. 

Goal 4:  Provide intrusive advising to keep students on track to graduate.  This goal includes strategies such as establishing milestones as part of program maps, using predictive analytics to help identify students who are off track and to help students understand their likelihood of success in particular programs, using DegreeWorks, and establishing criteria for identifying students who may need special interventions in the semester (e.g., lack of attendance, poor performance on early assignments).

One of the assumptions behind this proposal is that advising, whether conducted at the institution on a centralized or de-centralized system, is a key component of student success.  Likewise, the assumption is not that advisors, whether faculty or professional, are incompetent but that systemic issues at the institutions may disincentivize students’ full use of advisors.  According to Haskins (2016), first-generation students do not understand the “hidden curriculum” (requirements for progression outside of the classroom) and the need for advising services.  It is hoped that this proposed meeting can begin to tease out how advising fits into the picture for second-year students.

Results of CCG Northern Regional Meeting, April 11, at University of North Georgia

At this meeting the attendees broke out into three groups to discuss academic advising, predictive analytics, and credit intensity.  A significant list of possible interventions or action items, as well as major concerns, was created in each group.  One issue that arose from the discussion is the existence of institutional and USG policies that may impede progression unintentionally; for example, transient, transfer, and dual enrollment policies.  Another is the relationship-building necessary for the important work of academic advising, especially in the early years, which requires that professional advisors have NACADA-based workloads and that faculty understand the value of advising.  Relatedly, the use of predictive analytics tools such as EAB must be framed to be a relationship-building agent rather than one more tool that labels students or is too complicated for faculty use.  This proposal for a Collaborative Capacity Grant seeks to address the issues of advising, relationship-building, online tools, systemic barriers, and information about majors that relate specifically to students beyond the first year but not yet in junior level coursework.

Potential lessons

The Northern Regional meeting in April at UNG was comprised of six institutions that are very different in demographics, size, mission, and resources:  the UGA (R1 flagship); Georgia Gwinnett, Georgia Highlands, and Dalton State (state college sector and largely open access); University of North Georgia and Kennesaw State University (regional and state university sectors).  Meeting with institutions of different sectors does allow cross-fertilization of ideas even if (a) a state college might not have the resources of a flagship and (b) the student problems and issues may differ; for example, state colleges may have more first-generation students.  For instance, the University of North Georgia has developed a QEP around advising that includes many evidence-based initiatives. UNG’s successes through its QEP can be helpful to its colleagues.  Therefore, the first potential lesson is to talk as equals and colleagues.  This lesson would be vital to developing ideas that could be scaled. 

The second potential lesson is that while the first year is the focus of many programs and interventions, second-year interventions are probably lagging behind despite need (Gardner, Pattengale, Tobolowsky, & Hunter, 2010).  It may be that institutions have interventions at their disposals that are simply being underutilized, or it may be that second-year students are largely ignored.  Awareness is the first step to addressing what might very well be a retention hole.

Describe the process/structure for collaboration

The meeting would be held at Dalton State College for a six- to eight-hour period in early fall.  Dalton State is the home of the proposers.  Although it is not centrally located to all Northern Regional institutions, it is easily accessible, being directly off exit 333 of I-75.  It is about one hour from Georgia Highlands and Kennesaw State, two hours from UNG and Georgia Gwinnett, and three hours from UGA.  The date would be a Friday in September. The Brown Center, designed for conferences, would be utilized. 

If this proposal is accepted, the hosts at Dalton State will begin by inviting representatives from the North Region of the USG.  First, each school will be invited to bring 6-8 members of staff, faculty, or administration representing most or all of these units:  academic affairs (example, Assistant VPAA, chairs, deans, or key faculty); financial aid; student life/housing; enrollment/retention services; academic resources; and advising.  This would translate to a maximum of 50 attendees, including those from the host college.  Second, possible attendees will be asked if they would like to submit a proposal for a session topic based on the overall themes of the day.  Up to four will be chosen, each receiving a $500 stipend for travel expenses and time/effort.  These individuals would need to prove expertise in dealing with second-year student issues and provide abstract.  To encourage dialogue, speakers will present twice and attendees will rotate sessions at the 11:00, 1:00, and 2:00 hours.

This “mini-conference” would follow this agenda:


Continental breakfast and registration


Greetings from hosts; Overview of program; introductions


Opening session:  Evidence and data about the sophomore year.


Dialogue:  What do we know about the sophomores at our institutions?
Attendees will have been invited to do some research on the status of their second year students and will report on what they know so far.


Presentations on one of the key themes




Presentation on one of the key themes


Presentation on one of the key themes


Summary; adjournment


Gardner, J.N., Pattengale, J.A., Tobolowsky, B. F. & Hunter, M. S.  (2012). Introduction.  In Hunter, M.S., Tobolowsky, B. F., and Gardner, J.N., (eds.). Helping sophomores succeed:  Understanding and improving the second-year experience, (pp. 1-10). San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass.

Haskins, J.  (2016, May 6).  Why first-generation students don't go to their advisors—and how to get them there.  Retrieved from

Schaller, M.  (2012). Understanding the impact of the second year of college.  In Hunter, M.S., Tobolowsky, B. F., and Gardner, J.N., (eds.). Helping sophomores succeed:  Understanding and improving the second-year experience, (pp. 13-29).  San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass