To boost student success, GSU assigns full-time faculty to freshmen

At-risk students in particular may benefit from instruction by full-time or tenure-track faculty

Governor's State University (GSU) is using only full-time faculty to teach first-year students in an effort to improve their academic outcomes, Colleen Flaherty reports for Inside Higher Ed

GSU was founded as a "senior university," with undergraduate students entering as juniors. In 2014, the university accepted its first freshman class. GSU President Elaine Maimon sought to provide students with a strong first-year curriculum and instruction, which she believed could be best achieved with full-time and tenure-track faculty.

GSU made the decision based on two factors: Not only does research suggest that undergraduate students learn best from these instructors, but full-time faculty also tend to be around longer, meaning they can continue to help students throughout their academic careers.

"The hardest courses to teach are the freshman courses —that's where you're introducing students to critical thinking and writing and initiating them to the academy," Maimon says. "These students are going to get a strong foundation that they'll carry with them through their four years at university and beyond."

Setting the stage for academic success is particularly important for GSU's most at-risk students. Many of the university's students are first-generation college enrollees. In addition, 55% are students of color, and 54% are eligible for Pell Grants. 

Related: Transforming the first-generation student experience toolkit

Early figures suggest that full-time faculty instruction has a positive effect on first-year students; GSU keeps students enrolled at a rate nearly 10% higher than peer institutions serving similar populations. 

How it works  

GSU's general education program for freshmen features learning communities centered on three themes:

  • Civic engagement;
  • Global citizenship; and
  • Sustainability.

First-year program classes are capped at 30 students, with freshman composition limited to 15.

Freshmen must be enrolled full-time and take at least three courses with the same group of students, who will remain in the same cohort through the first semester of their sophomore year. 

Colleges consolidating adjunct roles into non-tenure, full-time positions

Getting faculty on board

Some faculty members initially expressed concerns about teaching freshmen. They had to adjust their teaching styles to adapt to a less-experienced group of students, and struggled with issues like scheduling.

"We are finding that some faculty are more comfortable teaching the freshmen than others. I think that is fairly normal," says Ann Vendrely, associate provost and chair of the General Education Task Force.

Meanwhile, other faculty members have been pleased with the new setup.

"I thought it was a good idea—I wanted (the freshmen) to have the best experience possible, and that comes from the most experienced faculty," says Rashidah Muhammad, professor and chair of English at the time of the transition. "I wanted them to have faculty who would be around all the time, with regular office hours where the students can reach them"(Flaherty, Inside Higher Ed, 3/22). 

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