Top 10 Reasons Research Universities Need Success Courses

Wadsworth Publishing Newsletter ~ 2003

Freshman Year Experience (FYE) Courses came on the scene as a result of groundbreaking research on retention in the 1970s. However, research universities did not participate in the FYE course trend to the same extent as other colleges, largely, because retention was less of a concern on highly selective campuses where first to second year retention rates are commonly high. As a result, research universities currently lag behind other institutions in innovative offerings to first-year students. Now, with enrollment of the Millennial Generation, and their “hovering/helicopter” parents, there are compelling reasons for research universities to explore FYE initiatives. If you work at a research university, know that it is possible to create an academically rigorous FYE course that is appropriate for your students and your campus. Research shows that your campus stands to gain the following benefits by initiating such an effort:

  1. To help increase enrollment of your top target students. Most families compare the benefits and costs of each university that offers admission and a sound FYE program can tip the scale in your campus’ favor.
  2. To help your students understand the mission of the research university. Very few students truly understand what this really means for their education, but once they do, they are much more likely to become intellectually engaged as members of the community of scholars.
  3. To help students meet faculty expectations in the classroom—assignments can be designed to accelerate students’ mastery of critical thinking and analytical writing or problem solving skills, as well as to convey core values such as academic integrity.
  4. To help students feel more comfortable seeking faculty contact, selecting a major, and engaging in faculty research projects, all which build a trajectory to graduate school.
  5. To build a shared academic experience among a cohort. While first-year students are often brought together for shared social experiences, like residential living, FYEs can create a shared experience that increases their intellectual engagement and appreciation of diversity of both thought and experience.
  6. To address your campus’ specific issues and concerns about student behavior. Course topics can address relevant issues such as civic engagement/citizenship, issues of privilege and diversity, alcohol use, leadership skills, etc.
  7. To help Millennials (the least independent and most stressed of any generation to attend college) meet the expectations of adult responsibility as provided by FERPA. This can also reduce inappropriate involvement by parents.
  8. To help students (and by proxy, their parents), differentiate between finding their academic passion through major selection and their ultimate career aspirations.
  9. To introduce students to key staff and campus resources, which increases their likelihood of utilizing those services and relationships for their entire college experience.
  10. And last but not least… to increase retention, especially among special populations. FYEs, while beneficial to all students, can help increase retention among high-risk groups such as first-generation students, low-income students, or student athletes.