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Taking a Data-Driven Approach to Increasing Graduation Rates for Low-Income, Minority Students

Can data drive decision making to transform student outcomes at universities and increase graduation rates for the region? That was the main question Tim Renick, vice president for enrollment management and student success and vice provost for Georgia State University, answered during his presentation at the Detroit Drives Degrees (D3) Leadership Council Meeting in December. Renick explained how data was the key to raising Georgia State University’s (GSU) graduation rate for African-American students from 29 percent in 2003 to 57 percent in 2015. The Detroit Regional Chamber’s D3 initiative convened more than 40 representatives from higher education, business, government and nonprofit and philanthropic sectors for the meeting that took place at the Chamber.

Georgia State’s Transformation

Renick elaborated on GSU’s transformation over the past five years in Atlanta, which included eliminating the achievement gap for low-income, first-generation and minority students. Graduation rates are at an all-time high, showing increases of 82 percent of African American students, 93 percent of Pell grant recipients and 123 percent of Hispanic students graduating.

The university accomplished this by studying 10 years of data and found 800 different indicators of when a student may drop out. The indicators ranged from the grade a student gets in the first class they take in their assigned major, to taking a class that is not on their assigned major track or simply having poor midterm grades. Once the triggers were identified, the school created “GPS Advising,” which involved hiring 40 additional counselors that would be notified when any of those 800 indicators surfaced. Counselors were then required to make contact with the at-risk student within 48 hours.

Innovative Ways to Help Students

The data also gave the university insights into other ways it can help students, Renick explained. For example, another program “Major Explorer” was created to help identify the best major for students based on their interests and academic performance. The program then helped the students choose the correct classes for their respective major.

To create a direct line to students, GSU is also using smart devices to nudge students with text message reminders and chat-bots. More than 200,000 knowledge-based text messages were sent over the first three months.

All of these programs can be easily replicated in other colleges, Renick said.

Can This be Applied in Detroit?

“We are excited to apply lessons from Georgia State here in Detroit,” Greg Handel, vice president of education and talent at the Detroit Regional Chamber explained. “We know that increasing post-secondary attainment has a direct impact on economic prosperity and we have a real opportunity to increase the talent pool to meet the labor demands in the region. By focusing on post-secondary success, we’ll also be able to benefit the underserved student population in Detroit.”

For more information on Detroit Drives Degrees, contact Greg Handel at or visit

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