Study could be game changer for colleges
Published 8:56 pm Wednesday, June 7, 2017
Thousands of students earn their college degrees in Troup County every year, but how many of those students really become part of the community during their college years?
The Young Gamechangers – a state group focused on millennials in communities – offered ideas to local college and community leaders last week on how to engage college students and how to encourage them to become true members of the community while working on their degrees and in the years beyond graduation. All ideas shared will take time to implement, but local colleges expressed interest in the ideas outlined by the Young Gamechangers, especially considering the growing evidence of the value of those programs for future job prospects.
“It is human nature to yearn to be where you feel valued, heard and engaged in a communal setting,” Young Gamechanger Troy Clark of Augusta said. “Those conditions create community connection and foster community pride. That is the idea that we have that carries through all of our ideas, that from the first day a student arrives on campus, they are a part of this community.”
The group suggested getting students involved in the community early in their college experience through discount cards, a community element to freshman experience courses, a community leadership course and community mentors for college students.
Ideas like the discount cards aim to enhance student interest in local businesses from the minute students arrive on campus.
“When the freshmen come in with their parents, these are cards that you can distribute that they will already have on hand to connect with our local businesses,” Young Gamechanger Ameia Cotton of LaGrange said.
Of the three colleges in Troup County, only Point University currently has a discount card program.
“We have a Skyhawk Bucks program in place that allows our students to load their university identification card with funds to use at local businesses, and encourage new businesses to participate in the program,” said Chris Beirne, director of university relations at Point University. “Point would love to see how we can expand this program and its participation.”
Meanwhile, West Georgia Technical College saw the program’s value, but had reservations due to the college’s locations all over the state.
“We have previously offered a discount card for our students to receive discounts at local businesses, but because of our seven-county service area, that becomes difficult to manage,” WGTC Communications Specialist Colton Campbell said. “For example, a student in Douglas County wouldn’t benefit from a LaGrange business that offers a discount, and vice-versa.”
LaGrange College expressed interest in working with the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce to develop a discount card program, but does not currently have a discount card program in place.
The Young Gamechangers estimated that the discount cards would cost $1,000 a year.
The discounts are only the first step in the Gamechanger recommendation, which focused heavily on community members and local leaders connecting with college students.
The Gamechangers also recommended expansions on existing freshmen experience courses
“(It would) teach incoming freshmen about our community, and I say ‘our’ because I am a local,” Cotton said. “Also, it would challenge them to engage with our government, our non-profits, churches and civic clubs.”
Troup County’s colleges all have existing freshmen experience courses, but the level of community connections formed through the programs varies from school to school, and all three schools see some community connections outside of required classes.
“Every year, we invite community organizations on campus during first week for our annual Fair on the Hill, where students are introduced to area churches, organizations and nonprofits,” said news and features writer Debby Baker of LaGrange College. “This gives our first-year students a chance to learn about things that are going on in the community.”
WGTC takes a different approach to the program, since so many of their students already live and work in the community while attending classes.
“The (freshman experience course) program is set up like booking and taking an airline flight,” said Leigh Newman, the executive director of campus operations for WGTC’s LaGrange Campus. “Starting with making reservations – application and registration process – to using the skills learned while at WGTC to make connections, which would be understanding what local resources are available to help with their next step in their career. This includes connecting with the Career Services department at WGTC.”
The Young Gamechangers estimated that the expanded freshmen experience classes would cost $15,000 per year total for all three colleges to cover instructors and transportation, or $5,000 per school per year. The group also suggested leadership experience course that would partner with local strategic planning groups which would have an estimated cost of $25,000 per year total for all three colleges.
Mentors in the community
Finally, the Young Gamechangers voiced the importance of community mentorships to college students whether through the existing HYPE program which is sponsored by the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce or through local businesses.
Point University and WGTC both have community partnerships in place as part of their classroom instruction, but were interested to hear the Young Gamechanger’s ideas for expansion.
“WGTC is also starting apprenticeship programs in the area,” Newman said.
“WGTC has several employers on board that are combining on the job training with WGTC classroom instruction and paying the employees/students while in the program. Plans to market these programs and opportunities are being discussed as we learn more about the benefits.”
The schools also voiced an interest in expanding those programs as students and local businesses show interest.
“Troup County has been very welcoming to Point students, and through a program we call ‘Pracademics’ local businesses work with students on supervised projects intended to foster hands-on learning and added support for the business,” Beirne said. “We’re excited to continue to expand local mentorship, internship and employment opportunities, and would be very interested in spreading the word and expanding this program to develop additional offerings in the future.”
The final report listing the Young Gamechangers recommendations for Troup County can be found at Georgiaforward.org.