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Tyler Mulvenna wanted to achieve more than a high school diploma. His sisters had babies as teenagers. One dropped out of high school but later earned her GED; the other finished high school. His mother, a single parent, worked two jobs and did not go to college. Mulvenna noticed white students at his racially mixed high school, 45 minutes south of Atlanta, typically went to college, the second or third generation in their families to do so. He saw their posts on Facebook from campus visits with their parents, who were successful college graduates. “It was a fork in the road: The people who went to college, and those who didn’t,” Mulvenna recalled years later. The path he chose led to graduation from Georgia State University last spring, reports the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Mulvenna started college in 2013, shortly after the urban research university made a commitment to not just admitting students but teaching them how to succeed. Leaders at the school — located a few blocks from Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthplace — stepped up their game in 2011 to nurture students who didn’t excel in high school, who didn’t know anything about navigating college, and who didn’t have anyone to guide them. Leaders at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee — a peer of Georgia State in a city that struggles with a similar racial divide — have heard a lot about how Georgia State dramatically improved retention and graduation rates for at-risk students over the past six years. UWM hopes to find success by following a similar path. Georgia State was segregated well into the 1960s. As recently as 10 years ago, white students were far more likely to graduate than Black students. Between 2008 and 2012, when the recession hammered Atlanta, the university lost $40 million in state support. But leaders didn’t let the lost funding rob them of their sense of mission. Georgia State today graduates more African-American students than any other university in the country, and Black students earn degrees at the same rate as whites. Since stepping up its efforts, Georgia State has more than doubled the number of bachelor’s degrees it awards to African-American students — from 1,001 in 2009-’10 to 2,040 in 2016-’17. Georgia State created an elaborate safety net for students at risk of dropping out. It harnessed the power of analytics and big data and started so-called GPS advising, linking advisers to students as soon as they fail an exam, start missing classes, or register for a course that could slow them down because it won’t count toward their major. The university also began offering need-based Panther Retention Grants to students who fall behind paying tuition bills. It changed the way classes are taught to help vulnerable students succeed and introduced broad meta-majors to make sure classes fit with more than one major as students figure out a career path. When it consolidated last year with a two-year community college, Georgia State boosted to 50,000 the number of students it educates — 20,000 of them at the community college’s campuses. Georgia State’s commitment to graduate more degree holders has not only helped students, it has helped the university’s finances as well. That’s because every student who doesn’t drop out continues to pay tuition and fees of roughly $10,000 per year. For every percentage point increase in the number of freshmen who return for the second year — 325 students — the university collects $3.18 million in revenue it otherwise would have lost if they dropped out. Even with that boost, the university still is not replacing all its lost state funding after the Great Recession. But leaders decided the school could no longer turn its back on low-income, minority and first-generation students, said Timothy Renick, a Georgia State vice president.