A lot has been written about the challenges of helping first-year, postsecondary students persist to graduation. Low persistence rates mean fewer students graduate and enter the workforce as skilled workers.
In this sense, our ability to increase persistence has a direct impact on the quality of our workforce and our ability to compete in the future global economy.
We’ve written a white paper on this subject, The Need for First Year Experience Programs, that summarizes research on the effectiveness of First Year Experience programs for those institutions still on the fence about offering a robust, accredited program to all entering freshmen.
In short, here’s what we learned:
- According to the Lumina Foundation, there will be a consistent, and widening, gap between the millions of jobs in the future requiring at least a 2-year degree, and the supply of college graduates to fill those jobs. The economic opportunity glass, if you will, will be left unfilled if we do nothing.
- Filling this gap will require that we prepare more high school students to be “college ready” and increase their persistence on to post secondary graduation.
- A review of literature on robust, first year programs designed to support students and increase their persistence suggests that these programs are effective.
A non-empirical review of the programs currently available to students reveals that many institutions offer a freshman orientation course, usually taking a single day of information on healthy living habits and reviewing the institution’s student conduct code. Other institutions offer remedial courses in math or English and consider this enough.
In our opinion, neither approach is completely adequate. The first year programs that have demonstrated effectiveness have three traits in common:
- They are immersive. The programs require students to invest in personal reflection about their insights and habits, goals and a plan to reach them.
- They are multi-dimensional. The programs address personal insight, healthy habits for living and time management and focus on goal setting.
- They require significant investment by the institution and the student. Effective programs require at least a multi-week or multi-month investment.
As the data shows, the risk of leaving the glass half full is significant. Not only will it have dire impact on our economic future, but also on the social fabric of our society.