Challenging and Supporting First-Year Students Betsy Barefoot, EdD STAR Conference University of Ulster June 14, 2007
A Trip Back in Time Betsy Duke University - 1962 A thoroughly average experience Surviving, not thriving John Marietta College-1961 A thoroughly less-than average experience Barely surviving
Major Changes in Higher Education • Our views about retention • Our commitment to access • Students “new” to the higher education experience
Our Challenges • Converting access to success • Meeting the needs of different students • Confronting a lack of respect for student support work
Our Challenges • Confronting the remaining sink or swim attitudes • The ultimate sink-or-swim experience: the “mega first-year classroom”
Our Challenges • Dealing with the downward spiral of our negative expectations • Reverting to “chalk and talk” • Giving minimal assignments • Rewarding minimal effort
The Non-Aggression Treaty Don’t ask too much of me, and I won’t expect too much of you.
Finding Solutions • Assuming more responsibility for student success • No more sink or swim – now we use life preservers or preemptive “water wings”
Three Strategies for Rescuing Students • Supplemental Instruction • Learning Communities • First-Year Seminars
Supplemental Instruction • Targets high-risk courses, not high-risk students • Offers a supplemental class facilitated by expert upper-level student • Voluntary or required • Outcomes – improved grade point averages and retention; more in-class time to cover content.
Learning Communities • Two, three, or four courses linked across the curriculum • Single cohort of students participates in each class • Sometimes includes a first-year seminar • Sometimes is linked with residential living • Outcomes include improved retention and better understanding of the connectedness of knowledge
First-Year Seminars • Offered by over 90% of US colleges and universities • Link with improved retention • Characteristics • Small class sections (<25 students) • Providing “basic training” for students
First-Year Seminar Variations • Seminar types • Extended orientation, student success courses • Courses on unique academic themes • Courses linked to academic or professional disciplines • Remedial, “basic study skills” courses
First-Year Seminars • Different modes of administration • Taught by instructors and student support staff • Some required, some “elective” • Use of upper-level students as “peer leaders” or co-teachers for the course • Contact hours: from 1 to 3 per week
Content vs. Process: Process Is Key • Highly interactive classroom environment • Students are encouraged to speak out and to share • Atmosphere of self-disclosure • But – they still include significant challenge • Over 90% carry academic credit
The Comings and Goings of First-Year Seminars • Every year brings the creation of new seminars and the occasional demise of old ones • Seminars are vulnerable to the perception of being “fluff” • Seminars are vulnerable to administrative changes • The importance of assessment • The continual search for the ideal seminar
The Big Idea Behind First-Year Interventions Making the large institutional environment seem small However, as interventions increase in numbers . . . • Problems of quality control • The antidote problem: interventions can’t compensate for dysfunctional environments
The First Year as a Comprehensive System • Philosophy/Purpose • Organization • Learning • Essential role of instructors • Focus on transitions • Service to all students • Exploration of diversity • Introduction of higher education’s roles and purposes • Assessment/Improvement
Concluding Observations • The first year IS important. • ALL students need support. • Upper-level students are a great resource for the first year. • First-year students need a better understanding of the relevance of courses and activities to their present and future lives. • Recognize the first year as a complex system.
Finally . . . • If you could start from scratch and create a system of higher education focused on student learning in the first year • What would it look like? • Who would deliver knowledge? • What structures or techniques would you use? • How would you measure learning? • How can we effectively balance challenge and support? • What can we do to make the system we have more like the system we want?
Contact Information Betsy Barefoot, EdD Co-Director & Senior Scholar Policy Center on the First Year of College Brevard, NC 28712 firstname.lastname@example.org www.fyfoundations.org www.firstyear.org