College students ‘Jump Start' their education

When 17-year-old Tyler Fields begins his freshman year at Southern Polytechnic State University this fall, he won't have to ask where building "B" is, or the best way to get from his dorm to the gym.

He's familiarizing himself with the Marietta campus now during a summer program for accepted students called "Jump Start."

"[Jump Start] gives me a feel for what is going on in the world," he said.

Southern Poly's Jump Start program is well into its second year. The five-week program gives incoming freshmen a chance to earn up to seven credit hours before they begin college in the fall.

Other colleges, such as Georgia Southern University, Georgia State University, Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia, have similar programs.

The University of Georgia has 279 — out of about 4,800 entering freshmen — participating in the academic-based Freshman College.

The five-week program is fast-paced to give students a clear understanding of college life, said Melissa Garber, coordinator of first-year programs.

A $1,350 program fee covers housing, a seven-day meal plan and activities but does not include tuition.

Colleges tout the benefits of such programs.

"[Jump Start] is a much easier transition," said Jenny Brown, volunteer teacher for the orientation class and coordinator of residence life at Southern Poly. "It is just five short weeks, but it really makes a world of difference."

Twelve students took part last summer. All have successfully completed their first year of college, and most have jobs on campus, said Ron Koger, vice president of student and enrollment services at Southern Poly. The program was started with the goal of increasing the freshman retention rate.

"[Jump Start] helped me because I was living the college experience without all the stress of being a freshman," said Nujad Bolivar, an 18-year-old second-year student.

Bolivar completed seven credit hours last summer and was able to take a lighter load his first year of college and remain ahead on his required course work.

All thirty-five students in Jump Start take a one-credit orientation class and then choose two other three-credit classes.

"These are classes, to me, that you should take in the summer, versus something like calculus," said Fields, a recent graduate of Sandy Creek High School in Fayette County.

Fields plans to major in electrical engineering. He is taking the orientation class, English composition and American government.

"You come out of your small world that you have been in for 16 or 17 years, and you walk into something with a lot of different people from a lot of different places," he said. "Everyone knows a little something different about one main concept. When you can coagulate all that information, you can come up with something better than what you came with."

Courtney Taylor, a 17-year-old graduate of Houston County High School in Middle Georgia, plans to major in psychology and get a master's degree in advertising.

"The fact that we are in Jump Start is better because I would rather make my mistakes now and learn how to get to class on time and learn how to prioritize myself," she said.

Jump Start costs about $2,800, with room and board, course and activity fees. There is no GPA requirement, and HOPE can be applied to tuition.

Southern Poly is not the only university encouraging students to start early. Georgia Tech has a program called First Year Experience. Unlike Southern Poly, Georgia Tech's program is not academic-based. The program focuses on freshman culture by having freshmen live together. They learn how to form study groups and where to find study resources.

First Year Experience "helps students transition to a school with the academic rigor of Georgia Tech," said Dan Morrison, director of residence life.

At Georgia Tech, about 2,500 freshmen -- almost all -- participate in the program. Last year, the school had a 94 percent retention rate for freshmen. Southern Poly has about 5,500 students in the entire university, with about 600 freshmen each year.

Bolivar, now a rising sophomore at Southern Poly, loves the networking aspect of pre-college programs.

"It is not who you know, but who knows you," he said.