Thursday, October 19, 2006
OU continues to examine first-year experienceBy Rebecca Wyatt, OU Web Writer
During the 2005-2006 academic year, more than 70 members of Oakland University’s faculty and staff spent the year examining the experiences of first-year OU students. Through a nationwide initiative called the Foundations of Excellence, Oakland University worked with the Policy Center on the First Year of College. Once OU had a list of ways to enhance the first-year experience, the Policy Center founder John Gardner visited OU and issued a call to action for improving the beginning college experience.
“You’re one of the few universities in the country that has spent a year researching the first-year experience,” said Gardner. “You have a plan of action, now go with it.”
The Foundations of Excellence project started in 2003 by the Policy Center to develop an aspiration model of excellence that can be used to measure levels of achievement and design specific plans for change that lead to improvement. The model is comprised of nine standards of excellence for the first year including excellence in philosophy, organization, faculty, learning, transitions, diversity, roles, assessment and all students.
“I don’t think you can be a great university or a distinctive university without focusing on the first-year experience,” said Gardner.
The Policy Center has spent two years working with four Michigan colleges, including Oakland University, Madonna University, Davenport University and Central Michigan University. At Oakland, those from Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, advisers, faculty and other areas on campus created subcommittees for studying the first-year experience.
The first year is the most important year of college. Students develop a basis for the years to come, choose a major, establish a grade point average, develop study skills, make lifelong friends and acquire behaviors they will carry with them forever.
Gardner said in his first year of college he had three Fs, two Ds and one A, and that was in physical education.
Through extracurricular activities and encouraging students to get involved, there is a higher rate of success.
“There is something about those connections that binds a student to a university,” said Gardner.
Gardner encouraged all university staff and especially faculty to take ownership for a student’s success during their first year.
“All of us are responsible for the students. I argue that we have to take responsibility for the students and their successes,” said Gardner.
Gardner encourages collaboration and communication between divisions and programs, especially when it comes to the first-year experience. Student and faculty engagement will help strengthen the relationships they develop in the first year. He also encouraged review and assessment of the first-year experience to make sure it is still valid and working in the coming years.
“Usually there is no clear philosophy on a campus about what it is we are trying to do with new students,” said Gardner. “As a college student, I never thought about my mission — but the first year has to have a mission.”
OU currently offers a number of programs to first year students including Collegiate Communications 101, Bear Essentials newsletter, Connections, first-year transition workshops and Jump Start. For more information, visit the New Student Programs Web site.