Increasing Degree Completion and Academic Success: How Georgia State is using Big Data to Make a Big Difference


Georgia State University in urban Atlanta has been recognized nationally for its work to improve retention and graduation rates, prevent students from taking unnecessary classes, and ultimately lower college costs and student-loan debt. In this webinar, Tim Renick and Allison Calhoun-Brown provided an overview of the steps they and their colleagues have taken to transform student success and Georgia State.

The Georgia State Story

About 10 years ago, Georgia State documented a persistent achievement gap among students. Like most schools across the country, many of its low-income, minority and first generation students were graduating less often and dropping out more frequently than their white counterparts. That’s when the school started aggressively using data to find solutions. The administration reviewed over two-and-a-half million student grades and records. They discovered several hundred independent factors that correlated with students flunking out or dropping out of Georgia State and are using this data to design innovative solutions. The administration also looked at courses that had high rates of withdrawal and failure, then redesigned their curriculum completely. They have also leveraged common interventions, such as summer bridge programs, using supplemental instruction and freshman learning communities.

For example, data and other research also allowed Georgia State to figure out that sometimes just a few hundred dollars can help students stay in school or overcome other barriers to success. The Panther Retention Grant was created by GSU in 2011 to “fill the gaps” between what students have paid and what they owe so that they don’t have to drop out or stop out of school because of small shortfalls in resources.

Today, thanks to more than a dozen strategic programs implemented over the past several years, Georgia State’s achievement gap is gone. The institutional graduation rate has improved 22 points—among the highest increases in the nation over this period. Rates are up 32 points for Latinos (to 54%), and 28 points for African Americans (to 57%). Pell-eligible students currently represent 59% of Georgia State University’s undergraduate student population, and over the past three years have graduated at rates, on average, equal to those of non-Pell students. For four consecutive years, Georgia State has conferred more bachelor degrees to African Americans than any other non-profit college or university in the United States.


  • In 2013, Georgia State received the first-ever MVP award from the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU). The award recognized Georgia State University as the public university that has made        the greatest impact on improving student success outcomes in the nation.                      
  • In December 2014, President Barak Obama lauded the exemplary work being done at Georgia State University to assist low-income students through its Panther Retention Grant program in his address at White House College Opportunity Day of Action.
  • In January 2015, Georgia State received the Institutional Transformation Award from the American Council on Education (ACE), the largest organization for post-secondary education in the nation. Citing Georgia State’s exceptional progress in the area of student success and its elimination of all achievement gaps, ACE granted the award for only the second time in its history.


Timothy M. Renick is the Vice President for Enrollment and Student Success at Georgia State University as well as the Vice Provost of the University. He has been a Professor of Religious Studies at the University since 2000 and a Chief Enrollment Officer since 2008. Prior to holding these positions, he served various positions at Georgia State University, including Associate Provost, Chair of Religious Studies and Director of the Honors Program. Renick completed his B.A. at Dartmouth College and went on to obtain an M.A. from Princeton University. He received his PhD in Religion from Princeton University.

Dr. Allison Calhoun-Brown (Ph.D. Emory University, 1994) is Associate Professor of Political Science at Georgia State University. Her research and teaching interests include public opinion, religion and politics, and African American politics.  Dr. Calhoun-Brown is particularly interested in the influence of churches and ministers on political behavior in the black community.  She is a past chair of the Religion and Politics section of the American Political Science Association and has published her research in journals such as The American Politics Quarterly, The Journal of Politics,  and The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.  Her current research projects examine the effects of religiosity on the political attitudes and behaviors of African Americans.