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Why Momentum Year Matters

Colleges and universities historically track first-year retention to spot potential challenges in the critical first and second terms of a student's educational journey. Yet this lagging indicator is arguably insufficient when helping leaders make informed decisions about actionable interventions to support on-time degree completion. 

This is why institutions that seek a leading, actionable indicator of graduation rates are choosing a Momentum Year approach to close gaps in outcomes. Tracking momentum metrics for students during their crucial first-year of college allows for timely intervention and demonstration of a student’s progress along the way.


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Defining Momentum 

The concept of academic momentum relies on specific metrics updated on a scheduled cadence to ensure students are on a path to achieve academic goals. Its application can help students avoid first-year mistakes that increase the risk of dropping out and reduce the potential of accruing unnecessary credits and debt along the way.


A Student in Motion Stays in Motion

Through an analysis of multiple higher education systems, researchers at the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, identified three key factors for creating first-year momentum: 


Gateway course completion: Core English and math requirements   

Square-icon-02Program momentum: Nine credits in the student’s academic focus area

Square-icon-03First-year credits: 30 credits taken in the first year 


A report titled What is Academic Momentum, and Does it Matter? from the Education Commission of the States found a strong correlation between freshman student behaviors and increased degree completion. Conversely, students who took an overloaded schedule of more than 18 credit hours were less likely to attain a degree.




  • Compare metrics within a single institution with longitudinal tracking
  • Examine metrics across institutions 
  • Update metrics on a scheduled cadence
  • Tailor student-specific data to undergrad communications


Institutions who measure Momentum Year are more likely to spot potential challenges along a student’s educational journey and intervene early enough with the right data to increase their chance of successful degree completion. 

  • Provide designated points in the schedule (before fall and spring term registration) where an institution can intervene and get students back on track 
  • Encourage students to make strong academic decisions and intentionally design pathways with Momentum Year focus in the first and second terms
  • Ensure the course schedule is aligned to the pathways to make certain Momentum Year courses are included in the schedule



In order to meet these essential milestones, institutions need to build clear, supportive pathways for students. 

First-year students who take at least three courses connected to what they think they want to study are 40% more likely to graduate than students who do not.
(Complete College Georgia)

A student who is focused on taking nine credits in their academic focus area during their first term and 30 credits in the first-year is 6.2 percentage points more likely to graduate within six years compared to statistically similar students taking 12-14 credits in the first term.
(Complete College Georgia)



First-year students who take at least three courses connected to what they think they want to study are 40% more likely to graduate than students who do not. tealquote1


Ad Astra Momentum Year AnalysiS

Momentum Year success stories from the University of Georgia, Complete College America and Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education demonstrate Momentum Year metrics are instrumental in helping institutions achieve initiatives to increase degree velocity and on-time degree completion.

Once your institution has set its sights on tracking Momentum Year metrics, it’s time to talk to Ad Astra. The Momentum experts at Ad Astra can assist with evaluating and measuring your institution’s Momentum Year efforts and ask critical questions. 

  • Are you intervening early enough and with the right data?
  • How are you tracking and measuring student progress including degree velocity?
  • Are students completing their Momentum Year requirements? 

Ad Astra can help your organization use data to improve student success and degree completion efforts.

  • Benchmark student momentum metrics
  • Compare metrics across an institution, department, program, and pathway
  • Tailor communications using student-centric info for student interventions
  • Ensure students stay on track toward degree completion


Discover how data can inform intervention strategies that support on-time degree completion. Talk to an Ad Astra expert today.


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