At a place like CSUN, it’s easy to be forgotten about. Our 30,000-plus student body commutes in and out of this place like it’s an In-N-Out Burger. Student life isn’t exactly booming, and for many students the incentive to stay at CSUN isn’t because they want to, it’s because they have to remain employable. Heck, I’ve aced three classes where I had no idea what my professor’s name was.
The result of this is a dismal first-year student retention rate, around 75 percent. At CSU Fresno, that figure is 84 percent. At Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, it’s 90 percent.
First-year students don’t feel connected with the university, so they leave after experiencing a nearly directionless freshman experience. But this might change soon.
Beginning this semester, the university will put in place new programs that look to enhance the coveted First Year Experience, or FYE.
Academic Affairs has rolled out its freshmen cohort program, which bunches together groups of 20 freshmen in some of the same classes so that study groups, social networks, and a better academic experience can hopefully form. Student Development has premiered its Matador Mentor Program, which will keep together freshmen orientation groups in some form through the entire FYE to better relay university information from student to student. Student Housing is moving forward with another year of its FYE Living Learning Community, with new plans that include an early move-in system and a potential satellite version of the Oviatt Library.
It’s clear from discussions I’ve had with university officials that the FYE is a major priority at CSUN. They’ve produced elaborately theoretical documents, formed FYE committees, and talked and talked and talked. Clearly, they mean business.
For whatever reason, the university finally figured out that if someone has a good first experience with a place, they’d come back for more, like a good restaurant.
But I’d hope that these same people could follow this FYE initiative out to its logical conclusion: If you pay this much attention to the first-year students, what are you doing for sophomores, juniors, seniors and (most importantly) super-seniors?
If I were a freshman, I’d be pretty happy right about now. Departments have produced four and five-year graduation road maps, we’ve developed interactive DARS online, and infrastructural expansion at CSUN seems to be the hottest new trend.
But I’m not a freshman, and neither are my friends.
Enhancing the FYE sounds fantastic, but fixing the first mile of train track doesn’t do much for the poor saps dealing with the massive wreck that left the station a couple of years ago. Eventually, they’ll start asking, “Why aren’t you paying more attention to me?”
For every minute spent in a FYE Committee meeting, I’d hope there’s another minute being spent in a Students-Shouldn’t-Be-Academically-Advising-Other-Students Committee. I’d hope the Career Exploration Living Learning Community in the dorms gets the same attention as the FYE Living Learning Community.
In other words, as impressed as I am with the Matador Mentor Program, I’m selfishly interested in finding out why the university continues to think that e-mail-only communication is working effectively. (If they don’t think it is working effectively, then what are they doing to fix it?)
I don’t want to be forgotten about just because I’m not a newbie. I know from politicians that children are our future, and that the elderly deserve our care only in passing. But there’s good reason why politicians lobby the 40-year-old demographic.
On the assumption that this FYE initiative works, the university will have to worry less about the rest of each freshman’s stay at CSUN.
But in the next five years, as students not accustomed to extra FYE attention move closer to their bachelor’s degree, I’d hope that administrators keep them in mind, since our poor FYE is what started this whole discussion in the first place.
Ryan Denham can be reached at ryan.Denham@csun.edu