Shippensburg University is taking feedback from its UNIV 101: First Year Seminar course to make adjustments to the course to further improve the experience of first-year students and increase retention rates.
The fall to spring first-year retention rate rose 5 percent in the 2018-19 academic year, to 91 percent from 86 percent in the 2017-18 academic year. However, the first-year retention rate is still only at 73 percent.
This could be due to financial reasons, but it could also be because students have not yet found their place in an organization or on campus.
The First Year Seminar course is part of the First Year Experience which provides students with skills they need to succeed in college
UNIV 101 is designed to help students find their place and the resources they need on campus, according to First Year Experience faculty co-coordinator Laurie Cella.
“If someone’s accepted to Ship, then we have an obligation to make sure they feel like this is where they belong,” she said.
Last semester, 1,309 first year students were registered for UNIV 101, which had 73 sections taught by 43 faculty members who volunteered to teach the class. Seventy undergraduate peer anchors were also assigned to sections of the classes, according to Cella.
Next fall, an emphasis will be put on maintaining a greater consistency across all UNIV 101 sections. This will be done by using a common checklist for each section.
Student feedback showed that students want to focus on time management, so now it is on the checklist that professors address time management as part of the course.
Cella had her students make to-do lists for themselves every week. She also shared with them her own to-do lists that would include self-care tasks such as watching Netflix.
“I wanted to model for them [that] this is how people manage their time. It doesn’t just happen,” she said.
All faculty will have to complete a draft of their syllabus by May 1 for review and feedback from Cella and Steven Burg, who is also a First Year Experience faculty co-coordinator. They will then meet with faculty members one-on-one to discuss expectations and answer questions.
Peer anchors will also be meeting with the faculty member they are working with earlier in order to begin training.
The job description for peer anchors will be rewritten to make responsibilities and time commitments more clear. It is also being required that students visit with their peer anchor.
“Students are naturally sort of shy,” Cella said. “If we require that they meet up with their peer anchor early, we can get rid of that shyness and make sure students feel connected to someone who can help them from the beginning.”
SU senior Kristin Thorpe was the peer anchor in Cella’s class. She said the most beneficial part of the position was forming a relationship with the students.
“I get to see them grow as people and learners,” she said.
Being present during class is the most important part of being a peer anchor, so students can better understand her role in and out of the classroom, Thorpe said.
There will also be an emphasis on helping students who are struggling mid-semester, and utilizing support from many different people such as faculty and advisers. Next semester will also have five sections dedicated to transfer students who have 45 credits or fewer, according to Cella.
“We feel like transfer students will need support as well, but a different kind of support. You don’t have as much time to sort of feel around and get to know folks,” she said.
At the beginning of the fall semester, students filled out a survey and were asked what they were most nervous about when entering college. A majority of students said they felt like they were lonely, or worried about being successful. At the end of the semester, students reported that they felt less anxious and more connected to campus because of the social and academic support of the UNIV 101 course.
While Cella said it feels simple, faculty members addressing students’ concerns and being a resource for them as a mentor from the beginning are powerful tools.