To improve retention, some institutions try revamping freshman year

Improved advising can give students a clearer path to their career goals

A group of colleges and universities are trying to improve the freshman year experience and, in doing so, boost retention rates, Byrd Pinkerton reports for NPR Ed. 

According to a 2015 report by the National Student Clearinghouse, only slightly more than half of students enrolled in college in 2009 made it to graduation. The greatest percentage of dropouts left after their first year. 

To combat low retention rates, 44 state colleges and universities have joined forces for a three-year initiative called "Re-Imagining the First Year of College." The program, organized by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, will combine student advising with wide-ranging changes to schools' curriculum, administration, and faculty. The goal is create a better freshman year experience that is more likely to result in graduation.

"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," says George Mehaffy, who is running the project.

Each institution will experiment with changes that fit their individual needs. For example, Harris Stowe State University—where only 43% of freshmen continue to sophomore year—will provide freshmen with more guidance as soon as they arrive on campus. 

"Some students don't find a connection between being in college, their career path, and graduation," says Dwyane Smith, the university's vice provost. But he believes that improved advising will help students obtain the careers they want.

Revamping curriculums presents a bigger challenge. The schools will begin implementing the changes in fall 2016, which leaves them only a few months to plan.

The institutions will collect data and make adjustments over the next three years (Pinkerton, "NPR Ed," NPR, 2/25). 

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