The illustration above highlights findings from the 2012 National Freshman Attitudes Report, recently released by Noel-Levitz. Along with identifying needs for college freshmen as a whole, the report identifies the specific needs of subpopulations, as shown, to assist institutions with identifying and targeting appropriate educational interventions.
In recent decades, many campuses have embraced the value of early intervention programs informed through motivational assessment. Assessing the motivations and attitudes of the incoming class helps educators connect incoming students with the most relevant campus resources – a pronounced benefit as enrollments increase at a more intense level than do the accompanying campus resources. Simultaneously, this proactive strategy helps students to acknowledge their own strengths and challenges, while gaining understanding of what is needed to secure a stronger footing as they set out on their journey through college with their goals in mind.
It’s common knowledge that the first term of college is often a transformational experience, which can swing either positively or negatively. And, given the growth and adjustment that occurs during the first term of college, it’s not surprising that attitudes and motivations can shift dramatically over the course of a few months, from the time students first arrive on campus and the end of the first term. In this era of economic uncertainty, these changes may be compounded by the shifts students are experiencing not only personally and academically in college, but also in their family, social, or financial situations.
Helping students find their place and achieve success at a large institution like Concordia University Montreal—with a total student body of more than 40,000 at two locations—presents challenges, points out Marlene Gross, manager of Services for New Students and the Student Success Program Centre. A long-time Concordia staff member, Gross was charged with developing programs that would help students, particularly new ones, become more deeply connected to the university while helping staff members better understand their needs and concerns.
The Student Success Program Centre, created in response to that challenge, is a unit in the Counselling and Development department, which provides service in three critical areas: learning support, counseling, and career services. “The program we developed looks at all of these areas and addresses student needs in a holistic way,” says Gross. The Centre has also served as the launch pad for several student success initiatives for first-year students.
My clients on campuses sometimes ask, “Tim, before you joined Noel-Levitz and when you were still in our shoes, employed by a campus, what are some things you didn’t do right?” Wow! There are many things I didn’t do right or could have done better. I had the right goal, to improve fall-to-spring and fall-to-fall retention rates, but often I didn’t have the right strategies (art and science) in place. In this article I’d like to continue this conversation with you and discuss how you can use both art and science to strengthen your retention approaches, especially with an eye toward improving your first-year student assessment and early-alert systems as students transition to campus and continue to their second term and second year.
Recently when I was on a campus, my contact, let’s call her Pat, asked me, “Tim, is what we’re doing with our first-year assessment and early-alert system really early enough and are we missing opportunities to better understand our students? Isn’t it too late by mid-term for many students? Couldn’t we start to know the issues that are putting our students at risk earlier than we do?”