CSU Creates “Road Maps” to Ease Students' Path to Graduation

COLUMBUS, Ga. — As more than 8,400 students start classes at Columbus State University next week, each one will have a tool to help them more efficiently plot their path to graduation as officials have created a “road map” of courses for almost every degree CSU offers.

The suggested four-year course schedule for each baccalaureate degree helps students navigate the sometimes-confusing world of course prerequisites and requirements, while also eliminating the possibility of students taking courses they don’t really need to graduate. The maps show students what courses to take and in what sequence.

It’s all part of an overall effort to enhance CSU advising and retention, said Tina Butcher, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs.

“Study after study has shown that intensive academic advising helps improve student retention,” Butcher said. “We are working on many fronts to help students understand better how to succeed while they are here, and how to more quickly earn their degree.”

CSU’s efforts are obviously working. Retention rates for first-time, full-time students have risen from 65.6 percent in 2011-2012 to 73.3 percent in 2015-2016.

One of the biggest advantages for students is that each program map shows what courses are offered and when, said Barbara Hunt, a program manager for the provost’s office who validates each map after being developed by the major department.

“Students often think that every course is offered every semester,” Hunt said. “That is a myth.  Maps help students see that courses are rotated. “

She said showing when courses are – and are not available – may prompt harder work. “If they know the class is not offered again until next spring, they may work harder to pass it.”

CSU has created these maps for all 2-year, 4-year programs, and 5-year combination degree (bachelor’s and master’s degree) programs. To find the guides, users should go to www.ColumbusState.edu and click on “Academics,” then on “Degrees & Majors.”  On the page for each degree listing, there should be a link to “Course Schedule” that maps out the proper path a student needs to take for that degree.

Additionally, there are “interest-area” maps available for students who start college undecided about a major. Area maps are located at ace.columbusstate.edu, by clicking “Career Exploration Resources,” then “Program Maps by Interest Area.”

“I think it’s safe to say that Columbus State has possibly the most comprehensive set of program maps in the System, especially the interest area maps,” said Jonathan Hull, assistant director for policy and partnership development in the Office of Educational Access and Success at the Board of Regents University System of Georgia. “The more important aspect of CSU’s program maps is that they are fully integrated into its advising system so that every student has a map to graduation, and students are advised according to that map. What CSU has done that is so laudable is to make the maps consistent across the institution.”

Hunt said the program maps also benefit the institution and the advisers.

The provost’s office can better regulate what courses are needed and when, and academic advisers can better serve the students.

“It’s a game changer not only for the students, but the advisers love it,” said Lisa Shaw, director of ACE. “They can be more than just schedulers; and, once the student leaves, they have it in their hand. It really teaches the student how to navigate the college experience.”

Another new tool the university is using to help with advising and retention is an Education Advisory Board (EAB) software package that allows professors and advisors to more effectively track students and their progress. The program identifies at-risk students, provides warning signals and timely interventions, schedules and tracks appointments, follows specific cohorts of students, and helps faculty enlist help for students who need attention in a variety of areas.

“We have an obligation to our students and their parents to help them get their degree in the most efficient and low-cost way,” Shaw said. “It’s all about saving money and saving time, and these [maps] are critical pieces to that.”