The vast majority of campuses have spent a considerable amount of time and resources helping to shape the first-year student experience in order to improve student retention and college completion. But with the increased focus on improving college completion rates, we need to “broaden the lens” and look beyond the first-year into the second as well.
It’s harder to focus on second-year college students, as they don’t have the same starting point as first-year college students. They don’t come through common orientation programs, move-in days, first-year seminars, residence halls, or advising programs. Second-year college students are disbursed across their institutions, and campuses tend to operate on the assumption that since they have come back for a second year, they are there to stay—all committed to majors, connected with their faculty and peers, with plans for graduation firmly in place. But are these assumptions valid? Are second-year college students still at risk for leaving before they graduate? What do these students themselves have to tell us about what they need and want now, in their second year of college?
Noel-Levitz data for students at four-year institutions indicate that 16-19 percent of second-year college students leave their first institution at the end of the second year. That can have a significant impact on college completion rates and is especially troubling considering so many second-year college students are eager for assistance.
Results from a Noel-Levitz study of 3,870 students show us they are most interested in assistance in the following areas:
- Identify work experiences or internships related to my major: 77.8%
- Define goals suited to my major or career interests: 65.8%
- Explore advantages or disadvantages of my career choice: 65.3%
- Figure out the impact of grades on my desired major: 60.8%
- Prepare a written academic plan for graduation: 57.3%
When I saw this list, I was struck by three things: how many second-year students are asking for specific help in these areas; although they may have chosen a major, second-year students continue to have important questions about thriving in their majors; and the critical role that academic advising and career development can play in their success. These findings suggest five ways in which campuses should organize to serve second-year college students through campus programs and services.
- Ensure that second-year students have full access to information about work and internship experiences in their majors. These students are thinking ahead to their post-graduate future. What processes are in place for them to get all the information they need by the start of their second year of enrollment (or before!) so they can compete for the best internship and/or work experiences available in their programs? Employers are placing increased importance on credit-bearing internships in their hiring screening processes. Does your institution have a concrete plan to meet this demand for high quality internships?
- Embed career development into academic advising within the major. Students are clearly asking for advising help beyond the course-selection process. How can we connect advising with career development so that your students have regular opportunities to continue to explore their goals and the advantages/disadvantages of their major and career choices?
- Provide resources and tools for students to develop and monitor their academic plans for success. Second-year students are asking for help in determining if they are on track to be successful in their majors and to graduate on time. What tools do you provide them to manage this process?
- Monitor student success and progression in high-stakes majors. Second-year students in high-stakes, competitive majors face the possibility that they may not have the grades to continue with their program of study. What academic support resources are tied to these majors and critical courses within the program? Are resources targeting students who may need to begin to develop an alternative plan (and stay at the institution rather than leave)?
- Build a campus culture of support for second-year students. Clearly these students need more attention and support. In order to be efficient and effective in providing the necessary services, organizing campus resources is essential. While more than 95 percent of all four-year institutions and 86 percent of two-year publics report having programs for first-year students, less than 30 percent of four-year campuses and 12 percent of two-year publics indicate they have implemented programs for second-year students (see the 2013 Student Retention Practices for Four-Year and Two-Year Institutions). Who are your second-year student champions and advocates? How can they be empowered to build a student success program for second-year students, one that will keep in mind how these students are now distributed across our campuses in diverse academic programs and residential experiences?
How can you assess second-year students more accurately and connect them to campus resources?
I will be exploring this question in more detail during a free webinar on March 25, Retaining Second-Year College Students With Targeted Interventions. I invite you to attend and learn about an assessment instrument campuses are using to increase college completion among second-year college students. I hope you will join us.
I also welcome your suggestions for strategies and your questions about second-year college student retention. Please leave a comment below, or send me an email.
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