TAG fuels student dreams, university partners’ role in regional development

 President's Partners Meeting
From left, Jennifer Wade-Berg, Houston Davis, Ron Newcomb, Donald Green and Claire Cornell

Federally funded program works to give transfer students a gateway to graduation

KENNESAW, Ga. (Sep 30, 2016) — At 46, Tommy Zaring enjoys driving a school bus in Cartersville, Ga., where he lives with his wife and daughter.  But he also has dreams of becoming a CPA and helping professional athletes shore up their finances. Earning an Associate of Science in Business Administration degree at Georgia Highlands College (GHC) is the first step towards that goal.  Next comes a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Kennesaw State University’s Coles College of Business.

That’s where an initiative called the Transfer Advocate Gateway (TAG) comes in.  Funded by a “First in the World” grant from the U.S. Department of Education, TAG uses a “high-touch” approach to get Zaring successfully from Point A to Point B. 

With a four-year, $3.2 million grant awarded in 2014, Kennesaw State is partnering with GHC and Chattahoochee Technical College (CTC) to provide concentrated enrollment, advising and coaching services and academic support for underrepresented minority and nontraditional students who transfer from the two-year institutions.  That includes the services of an enrollment specialist at their two-year institutions and a transfer graduation coach who will advise and mentor transferees once they are admitted to Kennesaw State. TAG participants also attend workshops and seminars and participate in peer mentoring and a specially designed learning community.

“I already know what classes I need to take before I can be admitted to the Coles College,” said Zaring, who plans to graduate from GHC in December and has already met with Mya Richardson, his TAG enrollment services specialist.  “We communicate back and forth. I’ll be taking those courses and working to find a paid internship, so I can start working towards the two to three years you have to work under a CPA before you can be licensed.”

TAG’s one-on-one guidance and support services are helping nontraditional and minority students who transfer from other institutions as well — students like 55-year-old Tonya Clark, who transferred to Kennesaw State in spring 2015 from Norfolk State University, a historically black institution in Virginia.  She hopes to earn a degree in communications and fulfill her dream of working in movie production.

“I don’t have any time to waste,” said Clark.  “I think TAG will help me graduate on time and help me be a successful student.”

Clark’s says her participation in TAG is working. She has met with advisors, including her current TAG specialist, Chris Lundy, a couple of times each semester and attended seminars on writing and applying for scholarships. To expedite her through history and writing courses required to apply for the School of Communication and Media, her advisor steered her towards taking available College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams to earn the course credits she needs.

TAG partnerships meet regional needs 

Kennesaw State’s partnership with GHC and CTC along with funding support by the Department of Education, couldn’t have come at a better time, presidents of the three institutions agreed at a gathering this month with TAG staff, university and program officials with Claire Cornell, a representative from the Department of Education’s First in the World grant staff.

“This program is tailor-made for Kennesaw State, which with more than 34,000 on two campuses in Cobb County, can only grow so much,” said Houston Davis, interim president of Kennesaw State. “We have to think of ourselves in a regional node and of our stewardship of place in the Northwest Georgia region. That’s why these partnerships are so important.”

Davis praised existing transfer partnerships among the three institutions, like the 2+2 programs that create a pathway for students to transition from Chattahoochee Tech’s culinary studies and education programs into Kennesaw State’s Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality and P-5 early childhood education programs.  A 2+2 partnership also allows students at Georgia Highlands’ Paulding campus to pursue specialized and general tracks to an integrative studies bachelor’s degree with emphasis on criminal justice or psychology.

TAG adds a dimension that helps the partner institutions meet the needs of a growing minority population in Georgia’s northwest, preparing them to share in the region’s economic development, GHC President Donald Green noted.   

“Looking at the demographic trends in Northwest Georgia, the needs of employers and the opportunities for economic development, we only have about a decade to take advantage or the opportunities will go elsewhere,” he said.

Ron Newcomb, president of Chattahoochee Tech, said higher education in the state has created many ways for the top 25 percent of students academically to get ahead and succeed in four-year institutions — Move On When Ready and dual enrollment options among them.

“Now we have to talk about and prepare for the next 25 percent of students, finding ways to eliminate obstacles they face to higher education, going beyond traditional recruitment and doing more outreach,” Newcomb said.

Creating pathways to success for underrepresented, minority and nontraditional students means finding ways to better integrate rather than separate them, creating a safe place for them, respecting their heritage and developing a culturally competent staff, according to Jennifer Wade-Berg, TAG’s project director, associate professor of human services and the grant’s principal investigator.

“Our goal is to increase the number of underrepresented transfer students by 25 percent and improve both two- and four-year graduation rates.  Our approach is to advocate for students in the program and teach them how to advocate for themselves, empowering them to go to take charge of their education and seek out their professors and campus supports when they need help,” said Wade-Berg.

“We have seen tremendous success in a program funded by The Goizueta Foundation for our Hispanic and Latino students as well as similar programs for first-year students. We’re building on that excellent foundation for the TAG program.”


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu