Friday, November 6, 2009

Are We Doing Right by Our First Year Students?

Guest Writer, Pat Joseph

We know the first year represents a critical and important time in the life of a college student. There seems to be a trend that every five years or so, as varied colleges and universities put forth “new and improved” efforts aimed at helping first year students succeed and persist in college. Lincoln University has offered a vibrant Freshmen Transition week of activities where new students practically have the campus to themselves to comfortably move in, get to know others, take placement exams, get their class schedules, and of course learn the LU pride chant. In the fall of 2006, First Year Experience (FYE101) became a course requirement, where freshmen students study and are exposed to a common set of assignments designed to help them adjust to the college experience.

Our latest endeavor, the recently implemented Split Model of Advising Program, immediately assigns new students to Academic Advisors in the college major/department of their choice. Within this plan there are potential advantages and challenges. For example, it’s a good idea to provide new students with a department “home” but many students are not realistic in their choice and/or are not aware of the difficult requirements of a number of majors. Some may realize later that they do not have the aptitude and/or interest to continue with their initial selection of a major. Thus, I think we must now figure innovative ways to ensure these new students make good career decisions in a timely manner.

This cursory review does not include other freshmen-related issues including the large number that test into developmental courses, the need for an adequate number of courses for them to choose from, and student experience with enhancement programs like the reading & writing labs, and tutoring.

Initiatives for new students may come and go, but what should remain constant is our ability to positively (or negatively) answer the question, “Are we doing right by our first year students?” It would be interesting to learn your thoughts and ideas.


  1. Pat:

    I would think that one element that would have to be part of all first year experience activities is the goal to help the student identify where they are in realtion to their new endeaver the college experience, and help tem to quantify what they bring and what they need to address. From the perspective of the school an identifcation of the findings might provide informed feedback to enhance what exists.


  2. Pat, from all I know of the FYE program, we're certainly doing well by the students. The program is organized and standardized, and it's being taught by dedicated teachers. The only thought I'd pass along about first year students in general is the importance of establishing learning communities of some sort, whether formal via linked courses or informal via extracurricular efforts that can support and motivate each member. Even in a school as small as Lincoln it's easy for students to isolate themselves, so whatever we can do to put them into cohorts the better.

  3. One way to find out whether "we are doing right by our first year students," is to have a full and formal assessment and an honest discussion of all the first-year student activities using Middle States' guidelines. This means, among other things, that decisions about the admission of freshmen, the Freshmen Transition week activities, First Year Experience courses, the Split Model of Advising, and the requirement to declare a major in the first year will be based on "assessment results that have been shared in useful forms and discussed widely with appropriate constituents" which will include the general faculty (not just those who are involved in these freshmen activities).

    I do not think there has been an honest and serious attempt to answer this question: "Are We Doing Right by Our First Year Students?" or, if there has, we should prove and document it (not just assume it).