Sandra Beckwith
Georgian Court University

Earning 30 college credits in the first year is the best indicator of whether a student will earn a degree, administrators at Georgian Court University in New Jersey had learned.

So they were concerned to discover that just over one-third of first-time freshmen in the fall of 2013 had earned 30 credits by the start of their second year.

“We have a good number of freshmen taking remedial courses within their 15-hour course load, which don’t count toward their 15 credits,” says Kathleen Boody, dean of student success.

To fix this deficit, the university began offering a free, three-credit course during the winter or summer break to freshmen who enrolled in the fall of 2014. Students who had withdrawn from a course were also eligible.

During this pilot program, called Chart the Course, students not on track to complete the year with 30 credits could take Introduction to Psychology, Contemporary Economics or U.S. History during break at no charge. Courses were offered online for those who don’t live near campus or in hybrid online/in-person models.

Into the Future

  • Chart the Course will provide the free general education classes in a way that reaches students with different learning styles.
  • Marketing materials for 2015 targeted parents as well as students, since families save money when students graduate in four years.
  • Administrators are exploring expansion of the program to students in their sophomore and junior years who aren’t on track to graduate in four years.

Instructors carefully constructed courses to take into account challenges faced by remedial students. A face-to-face pre-course orientation program allowed faculty, success coaches and peer tutors to train participants in how to use online course sites and tools, including Google Hangouts.

In addition, success coaches monitored student progress throughout the course, sending reminders about assignments and following up as needed to help ensure success.

While getting students enrolled in Chart the Course during precious break time could be challenging, there was another hurdle: The finance team had to approve the tuition-free courses before the program could proceed.

“Once we demonstrated that if we retained just one student into the next semester the program would pay for itself, we received approval,” Boody says.

The retention rate for the 43 students in the first-year trial program was 86 percent, which exceeds the overall university retention rate of 78 percent. The retention rate of students who qualified for the program but declined to participate, was 48 percent.

After these promising initial results, the program has continued into this academic year.