Today@Sam Article

SHSU Selected For AASCU's First-Year College Program

Feb. 24, 2016
SHSU Media Contact: Dawine Bergeron

According to a U.S. News ranking, as many as one in three first-year students won’t return for their sophomore year.

The first year of college has emerged as the critical threshold for determining college success, since it’s the point at which dropout rates are the highest; yet, it is the most conducive year for reform, given that students generally aren’t taking classes that are geared toward their major.

Sam Houston State University is expanding its efforts to assist these students by participating in the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ three-year “Re‐Imagining the First Year of College” project, an initiative aimed at transforming the first year of college to enhance students’ success in their undergraduate years and in the 21st-century workplace.

The objective of the RFY project is to help participating colleges implement changes that will enhance the first-year student experience and increase student retention and graduation rates, particularly among historically underserved populations.

“The first year for students—both freshman and transfer—is very critical,” said Mary Robbins, SHSU associate vice provost. “If students run into issues academically, financially, or with a sense of belonging, it’s easy for them to go back to what is comfortable, which, in most cases, is home.”

As part of AASCU’s RFY project, SHSU will select and implement proven, innovative strategies and programs, adapting them to the campus’s unique environment and needs.

The RFY initiative entails an approach that engages the whole campus in focusing on four key areas to help first-year students succeed: institutional intentionality, curriculum redesign, changes in faculty and staff roles, and changes in student roles.

One major update that will be released before spring break is a new course catalog, which will allow students to find out what courses are needed for their major and select them in a less complicated way.

“Students usually have a problem with registering for classes because they may not have known about hidden prerequisites that they should have taken when they were freshmen but didn’t get the opportunity to take because the classes filled up too quickly or they just didn’t know about it,” Robbins said.

“We don’t want students to take courses that don’t fit into their degree plan. We want everything to be clear, transparent and easy.”

SHSU leaders also will participate in a learning community, along with leaders from the 43 other states colleges and universities selected for RFY. The learning community will enable leaders from different universities and colleges to attend national conferences, receive one‐on‐one mentoring, and share ideas, successful strategies and lessons learned with each other.

“My hope is that we are able to give students a lot of academic support services. We want to analyze the student experience and remove those roadblocks that keep them from graduating on time,” Robbins said.

AASCU kicked off the RFY initiative this month with academic leaders attending the association’s 2016 Academic Affairs Winter Meeting in Austin. RFY is being funded by grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and USA Funds.

“The colleges and universities we selected for RFY represent a broad swatch of the institutional landscape and exhibit strong leadership and other qualities that are conducive to effecting broad-scale and sustainable change,” said George Mehaffy, vice president for academic leadership and change at AASCU.

“Together, with the engagement of campus stakeholders, from students to academic leadership, we will strive to transform the first-year student experience and ensure student success,” he said.

SHSU currently has a First-Year Experience program that is geared toward helping students during their first year of college. RFY will remain a separate program, apart from FYE.


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