NEW YORK, Sept. 19, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- As a growing number of first-year college students drop out of school because they are unprepared to adjust to the academic and social rigors of life on campus, a position paper released today by The McGraw-Hill Research Foundation offers a solution to improve student retention and success.
The paper, "Engendering College Student Success: Improving the First Year and Beyond," is co-authored by Robert Feldman and Mattitiyahu Zimbler. Feldman is a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts and Zimbler is a research associate. Feldman, who is Dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Zimbler address the challenges faced by first-year college students and describe the important role that first-year experience (FYE) courses and programs can play in helping college freshmen make the transition from high school to college and adulthood.
Student retention, a problem among college students of all levels, is most acute among those in their first year of studies. Twenty-eight percent of first-year students in four-year colleges do not return for their sophomore year. An alarming forty-four percent among students enrolled in two-year colleges do not return for their sophomore year.
According to Feldman and Zimbler, the reason why many first-year students struggle is not because they are intellectually incapable of doing college-level work; it is because they lack the basic skills, such as time management, critical thinking and test-taking strategies necessary for success after high school. Some students also claim a lack of social engagement with instructors or peers as the reason for the difficult adjustment.
"Students can easily slip through the cracks during the transition from high school to college, overwhelmed and unable to adapt to new surroundings," says Feldman. "What students do during the initial year can impact the rest of their college career. We must recognize the transitional and intellectual barriers students face and utilize orientation programs to create a structured introduction to college that encourage freshmen to succeed."
To better prepare first-year students for the academic and social challenges of college, Feldman and Zimbler call for colleges and universities to implement first-year experience courses that develop students' fundamental academic skills, increase social engagement with peers and instructors, and familiarize students with the resources available to them on campus. These programs are designed to help students get comfortable on campus, connect with the university and become a part of the student community.
By easing students' transition to the demands of college, these courses have the potential to increase student retention and graduation rates. Feldman and Zimbler cite a Wilkes University FYE program designed specifically for conditionally admitted students, who require additional academic coursework before they can be offered full admittance. Results of the program show that by the end of their sophomore year, students who participated in the program often had higher GPAs than students who received unconditional acceptance.
According to the authors, effective FYE programs share the following traits:
- Structure and intentionality to make first-year students feel welcomed and prepared for college by opening up lines of communication with them before their arrival on campus.
- Opportunities to engage beyond the FYE course and program through positive interactions with other students, faculty, and campus resources.
- Integration within the larger framework of the students' first-year experience to put new students in touch with as many resources as possible while they navigate their first weeks of college life.
- Addressing the specific needs of individual students with the flexibility to meet the needs of the full range of first-year students by recognizing and accounting for individual undergraduates' unique strengths and weaknesses.
- An ongoing evaluation to give program administrators specific benchmarks to aim for and milestones to observe and measure.
- Institutional buy-in at every level to increase the likelihood that the programs will have the intended effect on incoming students. Having faculty members—or even faculty advisors—teach FYE courses in a setting that encourages conversation and connection can build important bonds between the institution and its students, and can help the university present a unified educational philosophy.
The authors note that incorporating faculty and administration into first-year initiatives reinforces the university's commitment to student success, and brings together the groups whose combined expertise and support can effectively strengthen first-year students' progress in the years to come.
"Students who enroll in FYE courses acquire skills that help them thrive in many aspects of college life and improve their experience all the way to graduation," says Zimbler. "Without a doubt, through FYE programming students connect better with their peers, are more satisfied with their collegiate institutions, are more satisfied with their faculty and are able to make a smoother transition to college-level coursework."
The authors recommend that colleges and universities make FYE programs a required aspect of the first-year college experience and suggest that to ensure effectiveness, these programs should:
- Award course credit(s) for the completion of FYE programs;
- Make use of online and digital resources (such as online FYE courses and podcasts) to reach as many incoming students as possible;
- Establish learning communities to increase student interaction and faculty contact, while also more deeply engaging students in relevant course material;
- Integrate a service component or community service project to engage undergraduates with their local and global community; and
- Maximize opportunities for new students to build personal relationships with peers, instructors, and the administrative support network.
Feldman and Zimbler urge colleges and universities to implement FYE programs immediately to help curb the increasingly dire problem of student retention. "It is no longer enough simply to know what works; it is time to implement what we know works by encouraging the development of first-year experience courses and programs driven by our understanding of the research on best practices," states Feldman.
To download a copy of "Engendering College Student Success: Improving the First Year and Beyond" by Robert S. Feldman and Mattitiyahu S. Zimbler, visit http://mcgraw-hillresearchfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/white-paper-engendering-college-first-year-experience-by-bob-feldman.pdf.
About The McGraw-Hill Research Foundation
The McGraw-Hill Research Foundation was established with the support of The McGraw-Hill Companies (NYSE: MHP). It was incorporated on July 16, 2010, as a Delaware non-profit and is in the process of applying to the Internal Revenue Service for tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) organization. Additional information is available at http://www.mcgraw-hillresearchfoundation.org/.
SOURCE The McGraw-Hill Research Foundation