Georgia colleges offer second chance for students derailed by pandemic

Georgia Gwinnett College associate professor Amanda Sepulveda teaches students in her English class as part of the college's credit recovery summer program for students who struggled academically through the coronavirus pandemic. (Courtesy of Georgia Gwinnett College)

Georgia Gwinnett College associate professor Amanda Sepulveda teaches students in her English class as part of the college's credit recovery summer program for students who struggled academically through the coronavirus pandemic. (Courtesy of Georgia Gwinnett College)

Georgia Gwinnett College student Michaela John was done with taking virtual classes last fall and the grade in her English class reflected it.

John, 21, a biology major, knew she wasn’t doing well in the class, but she missed the deadline to withdraw and failed the class.

John, though, like hundreds of Georgia students in similar circumstances, got a second chance.

Georgia Gwinnett College student Michaela John is taking an English class in-person this summer that she failed last school year. John, 21, a biology major, is one of many students who struggled academically in large part due to the coronavirus pandemic. The college offered summer courses to students to help them retake a course they did poorly in during the past year. (Courtesy of Georgia Gwinnett College)

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Georgia Gwinnett and other colleges and universities are offering courses this summer for students who’ve struggled academically through the pandemic. The college began Second Chance Summer, a new program for students to retake a class in which they received a grade of a D or F or withdrew from the class. Georgia State University, nationally recognized for its efforts in using data analytics to improve student performance, also has a program to help students with low grades in a particular course or those who dropped the class. Georgia State and Georgia Gwinnett had 750 and 120 students, respectively, in their programs.

Research shows college students across the country had trouble academically during the pandemic. At Georgia State, which has more students than any university or college in Georgia, the school saw an 8% increase in the number of D and F grades and in the withdrawal rate among first-year students. Georgia Gwinnett College’s retention rate, the percentage of students who stayed in school, dropped from about 70% in the year before the pandemic to about 65% last year, according to state data.

Similar remediation programs are also happening at the grade-school level. In Gwinnett County, the state’s largest public school district, more students are participating this summer in its Community-Based Mentoring Program camp, which has taken on added importance to help especially vulnerable students readjust after the disruption of COVID-19. Atlanta Public Schools held a Summer Academic Recovery Academy for students to brush up on math and literacy skills.

The colleges and universities are offering more in-person instruction in smaller class sizes with tutors, which they believe will help student performance. The final grades aren’t in yet, but administrators think the students are doing better. At the very least, administrators and those involved in the programs believe students see school leaders are sincerely interested in their academic success.

“Maybe the most important thing is the messaging that we know that the college experience over the last year isn’t the one you imagined and isn’t the one we imagined providing,” said Georgia Gwinnett program organizer Rachel Bowser, associate provost for strategic initiatives and an English professor. “We want you to come back and try again in an environment where everybody in the room knows that it’s important to have a second chance at something.”

The bad grades or withdrawals could threaten a student’s eligibility for scholarships and other forms of financial aid. The grade received this summer will generally replace the prior grade on each school’s grade-point average system, but the old grade will still be listed on the student’s transcript.

Officials from both schools said they’re interested in continuing the programs, particularly for first-year students.

“We all know that lots of people struggle in that first year. We want people to recover from that struggle and this might be a good way to not only help them with the class but help them really to see their success a little differently and motivate them going forward,” said Allison Calhoun-Brown, Georgia State’s vice president for student engagement and programs.

Georgia State used federal funds to cover some of the instructional costs. Students received scholarships funded through the university, Calhoun-Brown said. Georgia Gwinnett officials worked with their financial aid office to find money to help pay for the courses. At both schools, the classes were in core courses such as English, math and history. Some courses were in-person, others online and a few were taught with a mix of in-person and online instruction.

Georgia State University held its commencement ceremony at Center Parc Stadium on Thursday, May 6, 2021. The university is offering credit recovery courses for students who stumbled academically through the coronavirus pandemic. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

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Credit: Jenni Girtman

John said she had the option of taking her class online, but she wanted to do it in-person. Her class was twice a week, on Monday and Wednesday mornings. John, who described herself as introverted in larger classroom settings, said she was more vocal in the smaller class.

John is waiting on her final grade. She believes she’s close to getting a 90 in the class.

“I’m definitely a big fan of it,” she said of the summer classes. “It reduces the amount of people who are being left behind.”