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Social Justice and Student Success at Georgia State University

Georgia State University (GSU) has demonstrated that students from all backgrounds can succeed. Situated in downtown Atlanta, GSU graduates more low-income, Latino and Asian American students than any university in Georgia and more African American students than any university in the country.

“We’ve raised our graduation rates by 22 percentage points and have eliminated all achievement gaps based on race, ethnicity and income level,” says Dr. Timothy Renick, the university’s Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Success.  “Last year, we were the only public university in the country at which the African American, Latino, low-income and first-generation students all graduated at rates at or above the rate of the student body overall.”

The programs offered by the university such as GPS Advising, Panther Retention Grants and the Summer Success Academy have shown that a 1% increase in student retention brings a $3.18 million Return on Investment (ROI) to the University. Understanding this and GSU’s progress retaining and graduating students, the Social Justice and Student Success grant development team asked ourselves, how can we bring even more innovation to student success at Georgia State University?

The College of Education & Human Development and the Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning are collaborating with several partners to investigate and promote collective understanding among university and community stakeholders regarding social justice impacts on students’ success at GSU. Our project also includes students in the Early College Program who are transitioning into GSU. Our partners are the Alonzo A. Crim Center for Urban Educational Excellence, the Dean’s Office of School, Community and International Partnerships as well as the Southern Education Foundation. To better understand the climate of social justice and its impact on student success at GSU we are creating a large-scale online interactive experience to prepare student-faculty research teams to engage in the project.

Our grant team, led by Dr. Joyce King (PI) and Dr. Valora Richardson (Co-PI), involves faculty, staff and graduate students. We are working to develop, implement and evaluate the interdisciplinary, hybrid summer research course in which students will explore social justice and student success at GSU.  Organizing this course is providing opportunities for interesting conversations across several disciplines and information exchange about social justice. As faculty and graduate students prepare course modules, we are already breaking through some “silos” that are so typical in higher education institutions. The marketing video that we developed to attract students has been very well-received and faculty and students in Education, Public Policy, Sociology, African American Studies and Music will participate in the course.

In this 6-week course undergraduate and master’s degree students will use Participatory Action Research (PAR) methods to investigate what social justice and student success mean among our diverse student population (including immigrants and international students) and key GSU stakeholders and community constituents. The course, which will be taught by Dr. King and Dr. Richardson, will integrate documentary films, faculty research, examples of social justice initiatives at other institutions and a close examination of the student success model at GSU.

Currently, we are assembling the hybrid course components and the Social Justice and Student Success Online Community Toolkit that will provide research training and engage students in the course with critical perspectives on education, race, bias and inclusion.  We are also evaluating platforms for the e-portfolios that students will use to record their experiences in the course and digital tools they can use to present their findings. Students will present their research findings in public performances, exhibitions, forums and documents at the 12th Annual Sources of Urban Educational Excellence Conference held by the Alonzo A. Crim Center in the CEHD this fall.

The success of our project will be defined relative to six goals and related activities intended to:

  1. Engage students in tangible research and collaborative learning skills to create student success pathways, including retention, completion and preparation for the inclusive, pluralistic world we value and to which we want our students to contribute;

  2. Deepen shared definitions of social justice and student success among university sectors and community constituents;

  3. Generate/provide data to inform metrics and changes needed in policies, practices and pedagogies to support GSU as a national model in student success and inclusion;

  4. Illuminate stakeholder knowledge and understanding regarding social justice impacts and student success;

  5. Build community, including developing faculty and community members as assets to support learning with and from students; and

  6. Conduct an innovative, sustainability-focused Collective Impact evaluation to enable other universities to implement this approach.


Co-PI Dr. Valora Richardson, Manager of Faculty Development and Support and Tiffany Green-Abdullah, Manager of Learning Community Development and COG Grant Manager.

Our anticipated outcomes are multifaceted. We expect to produce a Collective Impact Evaluation of the entire project that will include recommendations for improving student success at GSU and we expect to involve key actors who are committed to engaging students’ PAR research findings. In addition, we are building a website to foster communication, transformation, sustainability and scalability. We are excited about what we have accomplished so far, including our effective communications strategies using “Base Camp,” which supports a well-integrated team approach. We look forward to sharing more as we progress.


Tiffany Green-Abdullah is the Manager of Learning Community Development at the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Georgia State University.

Glenda Mason- Chisholm is the Project Coordinator at the Urban Child Study Center and a Doctoral Student in Middle and Secondary Education at Georgia State University

Featured Image Caption: PI Dr. Joyce King, Benjamin E. Mays Endowed Chair, and Dr. Gwen Benson, Associate Dean for Community and International Partnerships and Community Stakeholder, Dr. Hilda Tompkins, Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships, The King Center for Non-Violent Social Change.


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