Students are shopping for student success practices

Prospective students are evaluating colleges based on their student success programs, writes Katherine Hobson for U.S. News & World Report.

Students are looking for high-impact practices that will challenge them intellectually and help them create bonds with their institution and peers, writes Hobson. High-impact practices identified by the National Survey of Student Engagement include first-year seminars, learning communities, undergraduate research, service learning, internships, and study abroad programs.

These experiences "pay dividends in a number of ways," says Alexander McCormick, associate professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Indiana University. Experiential learning opportunities help students connect coursework to their real-world interests and career goals, Alexa Silverman writes for EAB's Academic Affairs Forum. Not only do students get an early look into academic and career options, they are also guided to see the connection between their coursework and their interests, skills, and aspirations, she adds.

Hobson outlines two types of high-impact experiences prospective students are looking for. 

First-year experiences

A student's initial experience on campus can determine future success, welfare, and persistence. Seminars and learning communities can help first-year students cultivate connections and acclimate to life on campus, writes Hobson. 

At Butler University, incoming students take a two-semester seminar on a cross-disciplinary topic with the same cohort. "It's a way to get students to engage in critical thinking with a group of peers they're comfortable with," says Angela Hofstetter, co-director of Butler's first-year seminar program. "We place them together during the Welcome Week, so from the moment that class begins, students have formed a bond."

2 ways to make your academic programs attractive to prospective students

And at Evergreen State College, many undergraduate students take a cross-disciplinary program each academic quarter. Students have the same classmates throughout the program, so "[they] have this network of friendships that tie [them] to the experience, which assures [students] that [they] can get through difficult moments, stay here and graduate," says George Bridges, the president of the college.

Hands-on experiences

Many students are looking for institutions that offer professional development opportunities—and for good reason.  Students who have completed an internship experience a shorter job search and are more likely to land jobs that are "completely related" to their undergraduate studies, according to one Gallup survey.

At Kettering University, students alternate between terms in class and in a professional setting. By the time students reach graduation, they will have had a total of two and half years of workplace experience, writes Hobson. "It creates this wonderful virtuous circle between what they're learning in the classroom and applying in the field," says Robert McMahan, the university's president.

Other colleges have made internships a requirement for graduation. For example, students at Endicott College must complete at least three internships—and more than 90% of graduates get jobs in their field of study, according to Laura Rossi-Le, undergraduate dean at Endicott.

But students can find hands-on experience outside of the workplace, too. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), for instance, offers more than 80 service learning courses that incorporate community field work into the academic curriculum.

And the State University of New York at Geneseo (SUNY Geneseo) offers undergraduates ample opportunity to pursue their own research interests. Jimmy Feng, a 2018 grad, credits the research he did at SUNY Genesco for preparing him for a doctorate program at the University of Tennessee. "It was something I was fully invested in, rather than a topic assigned by a professor," says Feng (Hobson, U.S. News & World Report, 9/13).

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