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The Momentum Approach

Understanding a Momentum Approach to Student Success

Momentum provides a framework for understanding how institutions can maintain student progress toward a degree. A key component of the Momentum Approach was the intentional engagement of the whole campus community in support of student success, with the framework providing structure for understanding how various units across campus can support students across their lifecycle – from prospect to alumni. Even as the work of Momentum becomes less specific, the key expectations of scaling work for all students and relying on research-informed practices remain at the heart of Momentum.

Momentum in the USG is focused on three overlapping lenses: Purpose, Pathways, and Mindset. By applying these perspectives to the student experience at every stage of the student journey and across the student experience on campus, institutions create an institutional context that helps all students succeed. In many areas, the practices and strategies that align with Momentum are well-established and supported by a significant research base.  In others areas, Momentum helps to frame the exploration and experimentation that will lead to the established practices of the future.

The Momentum Year

In 2017, The University System of Georgia began full implementation of a Momentum Year for students.  This approach applies a host of evidence-based strategies in combination to ensure that all students make a strong start to their college career. Specifically, the Momentum Year asks that institutions support all students:

  • start out their college careers by making a purposeful choice in a focus area or program,
  • enter with a productive academic mindset,
  • follow clearly sequenced pathway to graduation that include: in their first year:
    • core English and math
    • nine credits in the student’s academic focus area
    • and 30 credits.,

Put together, these three elements create a Momentum Year for students—a starting point that helps students find their path, get on that path and build velocity in the direction of their goals.

There is considerable logic in this. By helping students make a purposeful choice about what they wish to study, institutions help narrow the thousands of course options to a manageable level and align the work a student undertakes in college with their goals, interests and expectations. Creating supportive contexts for productive academic mindsets help students constructively engage with the challenge and rigor of college-level coursework, perceive the purpose of their courses, and make essential connections to their college community.  Providing a clear pathway to graduation helps all students understand the expectations and requirements for the degree, especially students who are the first in their families to go to college. The incorporation of key milestones in these pathways ensures that students are on track, structures choices and helps to immediately connect their course taking to their goals.

The practices and strategies that support the Momentum Year – holistic, appreciative and intrusive advising, program maps, credit intensity, corequisite learning support, integrated student supports, student engagement, experiential learning, aligned math pathways and more – have a long history in higher education. Structuring these strategies into a coherent approach – essentially shifting from a “menu” of options to a “recipe” of ingredients helps to ensure that all students are supported, with the greatest benefits accruing to students who are typically marginalized.

The Momentum Approach

Of course, students do not graduate in one year, and the framework, and many of the strategies, are applicable across the entire lifecycle of a student. For this reason, once institutions had established the foundations of the Momentum Year on their campuses, the USG began exploring what a Momentum framework would be beyond the relatively narrow scope of the first year. Some strategies, such as advising approaches, program maps, credit intensity and mindset interventions, directly extend from established work in first year. Others, including engaging in a wider range of experiential learning (and, indeed, a specific sequence or curriculum of high impact practices) or expectations for engagement in campus clubs, housing, or service, are relatively untested.                                                                    

To help understand and investigate the impact and application of new strategies, the Momentum Approach applies the same three pillars established in the Momentum Year across the entire lifecycle of the student, from inquiry though alumni. In this way, Momentum institutions support students success when they help students: 

  • deepen purposeful choices
  • cultivate productive Academic Mindsets
  • maintain progress on a clear pathway
    • attempting fuller schedules,
    • heightening academic engagement, and
    • completing critical milestones.

The Momentum Framework is a valuable lens for reflecting on the student experience across institution. While the Momentum Year has a distinct focus on Academic Affairs, the Momentum Approach seeks to understand, and organize, the way a student encounters the institution as a whole, from admissions and financial aid, to housing and employment and beyond. As a practical example, students may follow a clear pathway in student employment, with initial work-study or campus positions establishing essential skills and subsequent positions increasing in responsibility and relevance to their future careers. In financial aid, students may be asked to engage in a series of planning and financial literacy workshops, and be supported by data-informed advising, to ensure they are able to maximize their financial aid and minimize their debt at graduation, including key milestones each year for application and acceptance of aid. Finally, for students who encounter academic difficulty leading to warning, suspension or dismissal , messaging and resources can be crafted to create and support a productive mindset as students work through their return to good standing.

Making Momentum the default

During the Momentum Summit II in 2018, a wide cross-section of faculty reflected on what in their college experience helped to shape them into what they became. While there was a range of responses, from key courses, significant mentors, important co-curricular experiences, and even chance friendships, most of these levers to success were the result of serendipitous encounters.  The Momentum Approach helps institutions find ways to make these a default part of the student experience. 

Significantly, a Momentum framework doesn’t demand institutions do something new, but asks them to approach the work that is fundamental to higher education – from attracting and admitting students, enrolling them in courses, advancing them through their programs, and graduating them into careers or advanced programs – in a way that is coherent and oriented toward success for all students. It invites reflection on the work that is currently underway with an eye to how well it achieves its goals, and encourages cooperation and collaboration to achieve the best outcomes for all students.