Recently launched programs in Academic Affairs and Student Development will try to more adequately prepare new CSUN students for the transition into college and help stave off what have historically been poor first-year retention rates.
The two most visible programs for first-time freshmen are student orientation and the new Freshmen Connection program. Both have incorporated new elements as university officials have actively tried to make the First Year Experience more dynamic for students.
“I hope (new FYE plans) will lead to some concrete results, (such as) more students staying for their sophomore year,” said Tom Piernik, director of Student Development and International Programs.
Many students drop out after their first year, he said.
Close to 76 percent of first-time freshmen at CSUN who started in 2002 came back for a second year. At CSU Fresno, 84 percent came back, and at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, the figure rose to 90 percent.
Additionally, thirty-six percent of students who entered CSUN in 1998 graduated within six years, according to CSU data.
With an increasing CSUN first-year retention rate in mind, the Freshmen Connection, a new optional pilot program set to launch in Fall 2005, is designed for groups of 20 students –called “freshmen cohorts” –who have similar class schedules.
Various staff, faculty and administrators have been collaborating on the Freshmen Connection in recent years after experiencing similar programs at other campuses and seeing the success of the university’s Summer Bridge program, according to Cheryl Spector, English professor and director of the freshman seminar program in Undergraduate Studies.
This fall, 240 first-time freshmen will be enrolled in the Freshmen Connection. There are three classes that are mandatory for students in the program: University 100 (the freshman seminar), developmental writing (offered by the Asian American Studies, Chicano Studies, English and Pan African Studies Departments), and either Psychology 150 or Sociology 150.
The 20-student groups will meet in a larger 120-student group for either the sociology or psychology class.
“The end result is that successful students will earn general education credit for two of the classes, and will complete the required developmental writing class that they would’ve had to take (anyway),” Spector said.
Based on published research, students in the program will return for subsequent semesters at a higher rate than non-cohort students, according to Spector.
“We all want to keep our admitted freshman, see them become sophomores, and see them succeed in their chosen majors and graduate with a degree we can be proud of,” Spector said.
Spector said the Freshmen Connection program allows incoming students to learn together while taking the same classes and working as a community, rather than as isolated individuals who are enrolling with 30,000 others.
“I think it will work,” said Angelica Delgado, who was a first-time freshman political science major at CSUN in Fall 2005. “It will be good (to have) a bigger variety of people to know and create a good support group.”
Piernik said the FYE is a concept in higher education that allows universities to give thoughtful focus to what happens to students during their first year of university life.
Piernik was part of the FYE Committee that was established approximately three years ago. According to Piernik, the committee looked at all of the topics that would be most helpful for students during their first year.
Piernik said part of the FYE mission is to make sure students become familiar with university resources. By the end of their first year, students should understand what their academic responsibilities are, where to get advisement, how to join a club and where to pay their university fees, he said.
“What you have is greater communication (in) encouraging students to participate in university events,” Piernik said. “Students are more aware of how to connect to the university as a result of increased communication.”
“I think we’re going to have a freshman class this year that is less isolated and more inclined to use their resources,” Piernik said.
Hilda Garcia, assistant director for new student programs in Student Development, heads the student orientation program that first-time freshmen attend during the summer. Garcia said the orientation is an opportunity for students to learn what the university has to offer in terms of student services.
In addition, students can become more familiar with the campus and have a chance to get to know their peers, she said. During the orientation process, students also have the ability to meet with faculty and engage with many heavily involved student leaders.
Additionally, the Matador Mentor Program, launching this year, allows Student Development to follow students during their first year at CSUN through e-mail communication after their orientation.
Garcia said the program notifies students about what is happening on campus, informs them about their deadlines and responsibilities, and brings them up to speed on what university services are available to them.
Garcia said an example of the program would be sending out an e-mail containing library hours during midterms, the Learning Resource Center location and hours and tips on how to become a successful CSUN student.