University-Industry Engagement Week

Georgia State, State Farm give students a “LIFT” through partnership program

By David Schwartz
Published: July 6th, 2021

A detailed article on the Georgia State University partnership with State Farm, and the LIFT program of student support for under-represented groups, appears in the June issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. For subscription information, click here. 

The consolidation of Atlanta’s Georgia State University with Georgia Perimeter College, the largest two-year institution in the state, in 2017 not only enabled the university to expand its outreach to students in the state, but it also set the stage for a significant expansion of its partnership with State Farm. That expansion focused on the creation of the LIFT (Learning, Income and Family Transformation) program, which has dramatically improved graduation rates, advancement to four-year degree programs, and many other areas of the academic and personal lives of participating students.

“We had a relationship as it relates to recruiting,” says Dan Krause, State Farm Senior Vice President, which was initially focused on GSU’s Robinson College of Business. “But it did not extend as deeply as it does now. We have over 300 agents and employees who are alumni of GSU and Perimeter College.”

The program initially focused on the Decatur campus of Perimeter College, located just a few miles from GSU’s downtown Atlanta campus. “The whole purpose was to improve success outcomes for them,” says Allison Calhoun-Brown, PhD, GSU’s Senior Vice President for Student Success and Chief Enrollment Officer. “It was one of the most economically challenged parts of Atlanta, with 91% under-represented minorities and 70% low-income (Pell eligible) students. The State Board of Regents had recognized that GSU had been able to create the fastest growing graduation rate in the country using data analytics and proactive outreach, and we were very keen to bring that approach to Perimeter.” At that time, she shares, the consolidated graduation rate at that campus was about 6%; last year the rate had risen to 22%.

“For us, we’re always looking to build safer, stronger, better educated communities where we work and live,” adds Krause, noting that State Farm had recently opened a large office in Atlanta. “We had heard that GSU had done a lot around data analytics, [which were] very predictive around when the students might have to drop out; it was very impressive. It was an excellent match as we always, as an organization, wanted to make sure everyone has access to education. We had moved from 28 different offices around the country and consolidated to Atlanta, Dallas, Phoenix, and headquarters in Bloomington, IL, and were looking to make significant charitable contributions to those communities. GSU and Perimeter rose to the top.”

LIFT, says Brown, “is a comprehensive program that provides proactive intervention and support for students.” The central component is that students receive full tuition and fee scholarships to Perimeter College Decatur campus. That’s paired with a professional development component, including resume writing skills, financial literacy, academic advisement, as well as employment opportunities.

“It’s a lot more than just scholarship,” says Brown. “It really helps us scale student success [through] innovation. It helps us launch things like learning communities — first year students taking classes together, with peer tutoring.” The program also supports a summer academy, early college classes, and offers emergency assistance, all of which are open to many qualifying students in addition to those in LIFT. “It really helps GSU scale these innovations we have in student support institutions,” Brown notes.

Although Krause says that State Farm has made “significant financial gifts” — in the millions of dollars — he asserts that the company “has had opportunities to touch the students more than just financially.” State Farm, he notes, participates in the program on a number of different levels. “The most important part is that we have staff regularly connect with the LIFT staff to discuss student successes, challenges, and the need to make changes,” he comments. “We’ve had significant opportunity for our folks to get involved hands-on with the scholars. We have current agents we hired as interns, there are employees that mentor the students, and our employees participate in Panther’s Pantry — a GSU program that addresses food insecurity.”

The LIFT program, he emphasizes, was totally created by GSU. “It is an excellent program,” says Krause. “What they need is financing in order to provide scholarship opportunities. On an ongoing basis we provide annual gifts — not only for LIFT, but for other things.”

Brown clearly appreciates the broad commitment State Farm has made. “It’s a true partnership,” she says. “One of the things I respect and admire about State Farm is that they made it clear they were not coming in just as a financial investment. They really wanted to partner, to be part of the program. They have supported it in myriad ways — bringing GSU students to the headquarters for tours, employees volunteering in many ways to support the program, talking to students about their work experience. There’s a lot of interaction.”

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