Enriching the First-Year Experience
At SNHU, we believe that our success is measured by our students’ successes. That conviction guides the work of COCE’s First Year Experience team, which is dedicated to finding ways to help students thrive in their courses and meet the level of academic accomplishment expected of them. “We’re finding that our biggest opportunity for helping students falls within the first year,” said First Year Experience Director Matthew Belanger. “We have learned that if students are successful during their first three terms, they are 80 percent likely to graduate.”
Focusing on the first year has become a priority for many colleges in the last decade. Most of that work, however, is being done at traditional schools using methods aimed at resident students that don’t suit COCE’s student population of working adults. COCE and the FYE team are trailblazing new ways to reach students who may need extra help and to provide a positive new student experience. “We’re hiring 25 full-time faculty for the first-year experience. That turns heads. We’re putting our best in there, with high expectations,” Belanger said. “And with our advising model, we’re leading the pack. We’re breaking new ground on a lot of fronts.”
Personalized Paths to Success
The new First Year Experience initiative, which will launch this fall, offers different educational pathways for new students. Experienced students with strong academic backgrounds begin with entry-level general education courses. Those who have little or no higher education experience start with our new orientation course for COCE students and then take specific general education courses designed to build on the skills and knowledge introduced in the orientation course. These “bridge” courses emphasize success skills including communications, critical thinking and teamwork as well as time management, study skills and technology literacy.
All First Year Experience courses share a number of features designed to encourage student success, including streamlined course design, meaningful activities that integrate personal and content knowledge, clear outcomes that adhere to best practices, automated scoring technologies for real-time feedback for students that is also shared with faculty, and assignments with clear instructions and expectations. Faculty are encouraged to find teachable moments for students who have fallen short of expectations. Rather than fail a student, faculty should mentor students with the hope that they can succeed through resubmissions and coaching.
“The First Year Experience offers an integrated, evidence-based curriculum that will foster early term student success. Each course requires students to build a solid general education foundation in meaningful ways,” said Associate Dean of Education and First Year Experience Supervisor Daniel L. White, Ph.D. “Our students – who are mostly adult learners over the age of 25 – will be given ample opportunity to relate the research-based content they learn to their personal and work experiences. This will increase their levels of knowledge ownership and heighten the curriculum’s relevance.”
Full-Time Faculty and New Student Advisors
Support and encouragement are keys to student success. To help students navigate the new First Year Experience, COCE has hired 25 experienced adjunct faculty members to be full-time faculty facilitators. Each will teach three general education courses (history, humanities, philosophy, marketing, English, psychology, sociology and organizational leadership) and one orientation section per term. “These instructors have had proven, term-over-term, in some cases year-over-year, success with our students. They are adept at connecting with all learners, especially those who struggle with time management and writing,” White said.
Full-time faculty will be expected to provide support for new students as they seek to meet the university’s high academic standards. As part of the plan to provide greater support for new students, the university will also assign each student a New Student Advisor (NSA). NSAs collaborate with faculty and help students set goals, offer encouragement, reinforce course content and more. They are provided with additional resources and training in the areas of differentiated instruction, customer service, communication and outreach. With the quality, time and flexibility our full-time faculty and the NSAs provide, the College for Online and Continuing Education is committed to students succeeding in the First Year Experience.
“Placing dedicated full-time faculty into students’ earliest terms, where those students are at greatest risk, and tying faculty’s efforts with that of advising and other support resources, can only further enhance the student experience,” said Dr. Gregory W. Fowler, chief academic officer and vice president of Academic Administration. “We expect to positively impact student retention, satisfaction and, ultimately, graduation rates by providing more resources to aid in student success.”