For more than a decade, Georgia State University has focused intensively on improving the retention and graduation rates of students with long odds of succeeding. The results of this effort are truly remarkable.

Between 2003 and 2014, GSU’s six-year graduation rate increased by nearly 70 percent, from 32 percent to 54 percent.  During the same period, the share of its undergraduate population eligible for Pell grants has increased by nearly 90 percent, from 31 percent to 58 percent.

This dramatic improvement has attracted attention and plaudits from other institutions, funders, researchers, and the White House. Various commentators have identified various silver bullets. But there is no silver bullet.

In the latest addition to Ithaka S+R’s series of case studies in educational transformation—Building a Pathway to Student Success at Georgia State University—Derek Wu and I explore how GSU has achieved these impressive gains.

We learned that GSU’s achievements are not the byproduct of one large, sweeping program. Rather, they represent the accumulated impact of more than a dozen relatively modest initiatives, many of which we describe in this case study.

These initiatives are the products of a systematic problem-solving process. GSU has closely analyzed the obstacles that stand in the way of student success, and has chipped away at those obstacles by testing and scaling innovative, but focused, solutions. Through this process, it has steadily increased the probability that its students move forward and graduate.

While the exact steps taken at GSU are particular to its circumstances, we believe that GSU’s problem-solving approach may well be replicable elsewhere.