Why focus on students’ first year experiences?

The first year experience (FYE) is crucial in determining whether university students will continue with their studies and engage with peers, faculty, and their learning environment.  In other words, students’ early university experiences determine the quality of their engagement and success within their institutions.

Before coming to the ProVisions seminar on Integrated First Year Experiences (February 19), feel free to browse a few of the collected sources below that explain some basic strategies and tenets of FYE programs.

One of the best places to find resources for FYE programs is on the website of the University of South Carolina’s National Resource Center for First-Year Experience and Students in Transition.

Another great place to begin is with George D. Kuh’s “High-Impact Educational Practices,” which UMW uses to create their list of FYE best practices.  There is a great number of  lists detailing FYE best practices, but this list seems to encompass the top components of most others.  Some of the best practices given include:

  • Summer Learning Communities
  • First Year Seminars
  • Freshmen Interest Groups / Learning communities: integration of learning across courses, involving students with “big questions” that matter beyond the classroom; many learning communities explore a common topic and/ or common readings through the lenses of different disciplines.
  • Civic Engagement and Service Learning
  • Emphasis on diverse ideas, worldviews and cultures
  • Promotion of citizenship
  • Collaborative learning

Heidi Leming also compiles a helpful list of best practices:

  • Increasing student‐to‐student interaction (academic and social).
    • Freshman Interest Groups
    • Mentoring Programs
    • Common Reading Programs
    • Collaborative laboratories – between disciplines
  • Increasing faculty‐to‐student interaction, especially out of class.
  • Increasing student involvement and time on campus.
  • Linking the curriculum and the co‐curriculum.
  • Increasing academic expectations and levels of academic engagement.
  • Assisting students who have insufficient academic preparation for college.
    • Academic assistance programs
    • “Early Alert” warning systems for students at various points in 1st semester

Lastly, “Best Practice in the First Year: The Best of Times, And Not the Worst of Times,” by Roberta S. Matthews, Provost Emerita at Brooklyn College (CUNY), is a great source to look at as she weighs in on best practice commonalities she has seen among successful FYE programs:

  • Academic affairs and student affairs were on the same page. They understood that they shared the same students and the same goals, and worked together to offer coordinated and intentional curricular and co-curricular initiatives.
  • There was a sustained and virtually universal move from unclear, almost random approaches to comprehensive and coordinated programs. At the very least, the goal had been articulated even if the execution may not have been there yet.
  • There was a clear pattern of strategic hires and infrastructure reorganizations to achieve the goal of intentional and coordinated first year programs.
  • Advising and counseling had evolved into proactive outreach. Seen as a good to be encouraged and embraced, they were identified as areas where money should be invested.
  • There was virtually a universal commitment to FYE seminars. They ranged from small scale to full credit courses. They came in all shapes and sizes and fulfilled a number of different purposes, but the value of such seminars was widely recognized.
  • The use of learning communities in different formats was varied and growing. It was clear that the value of linking courses thematically had become a given in these exemplary programs. Many linked their learning communities with first-year seminars as well. Team approaches to these linkages included involving faculty, counselors, librarians, and student mentors. The learning communities often included a service learning or internship requirement of some kind.
  • As a group, the participating colleges were relentlessly self-assessing. They asked for and analyzed data and used that data to celebrate or improve their programs. They knew they could learn from the work and experience of others and had developed the broad overview that helps institutions make knowledgeable decisions.
  • Finally, they all had a clear commitment to addressing the issues of serving an underprepared, often over-extended student body.

Check out this video to hear what students and faculty from a local college have to say about their FYE programs:

We look forward to seeing you Tuesday, February 19th at 12pm in Standish A/B!


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