Fixing A Broken Freshman Year: What An Overhaul Might Look Like

TalkingEDUSmall.jpgThis NPR post by Byrd Pinkerton begins by describing how ill-prepared for college some freshman students can be. Quoting Taevin Lewis, now a sophomore at Harris-Stow State University in St. Louis, “Honestly, if I did not have ... determination to do things on my own, I probably would have fallen by the wayside like a lot of students did.” But, sheer determination alone can’t make up for the number of freshmen who drop out each year. “In 2015,” Pinkerton tells us according to the National Student Clearinghouse, “only a little more than half of students who enrolled in college in 2009 made it to graduation, with the largest percentage dropping out after their freshman year.”

One solution to counter these disappointing numbers is a project called “Re-imaging the First Year of College.”  The project, organized by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), is currently being tested by 44 colleges and universities. The plan is “to combine student advising with bigger, institution-wide changes to the curriculum, the administration and the faculty, all in the hopes of keeping students in school through graduation.” By offering more structured and consistent guidance beginning with a student’s arrival on campus, students would have the support they need for a better fit in school generally, and more specifically in their chosen major. Other changes being adopted by the 44 schools include “reworking curricula, getting faculty to work closely with freshmen and pledging to make data-informed decisions.”

While it’s too early to tell whether this proposed project will succeed, the idea that such problems can be solved one institution at a time is certainly being questioned. Quoting George Mehaffy,  the organizer of the project for the AASCU, “We're smarter collectively than we are individually. Many times, we've tried to solve problems as individual institutions, rather than working together collaboratively. ... This is the century of crowd-sourcing, rather than individual autonomy.” The question, yet to be answered, is whether disparate institutions, some with limited resources and time constraints can weave together a safety net for freshmen that gets them to graduation.

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