Colleges are revamping the freshman experience to retain more students

Noting that many colleges are working to increase student retention rates, the The Chronicle of Higher Education outlines five ways schools are transforming the first-year experience.
According to the National Student Clearinghouse, just 61 percent of students who started college in fall 2015 returned to that institution in 2016. The rates are even worse for students who are low-income, first-generation, and of color. Black students had the lowest retention rate, with 55 percent returning to college after their freshman year. Students aren’t returning for a variety of reasons, from unpreparedness for college rigor to family issues and financial pressures.

While acknowledging that “efforts to ease the transition from high school to college aren’t new” The Chronicle says the variety—and urgency—of colleges’ efforts have increased significantly in the face of financial and political pressures. The Chronicle looks at five popular and emerging programs and initiatives to improve first-year retention. Some, like the first-year seminar and freshman orientation, have been around more than a century but have evolved. Others, like peer mentors and student success seminars, respond to research showing a positive correlation between a “sense of belonging” and retention, especially among first-generation and minority students who are “less likely to feel a connection to their colleges, and more likely to struggle with self-doubt and impostor syndrome.”

Gateway courses (also known as weeder/weed-out courses) are another area of focus. Whereas colleges once used these classes to limit the number of students pursuing demanding majors such as pre-med, evidence that the approach disproportionately sidelines minority and low-income students has prompted some schools to revamp those courses. Finally, The Chronicle highlights efforts to offer supplemental instruction in challenging courses and to take a data-driven approach to student success, tracking and flagging struggling students and intervening with “intrusive advising.”

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