An important task for the Division of Undergraduate Education this year as part of the 2014-2020 Strategic Plan is to lead the University in a review of our undergraduate students’ first year experience. This fall, a First Year Experience (FYE) committee was created as a subgroup of the Campus Retention Advisory Committee.
The FYE committee meets on a regular basis to increase communication between colleges and units and to develop a seamless and intentional transition for first-year students—from recruitment through the end of the first year. Current programs and practices (e.g., recruitment, Preview Nights, summer orientation, welcome week, summer bridge, Living-Learning Program) are being reviewed as well as gaps that may exist in the first year experience. The FYE committee is also examining messages about University expectations and students success that are communicated to first-year students. The group will develop consistent messaging via publications, social media, orientation programs, UK 101, etc.
Key Updates to the FYE Program at UK
The University of Kentucky’s undergraduate community invests many volunteer hours and infrastructure resources to several components in the UK First Year Experience. Here are some updates on some of those we know have a big impact on UK student retention rates, contributing to UK’s #1 ranking for retention rates among Kentucky’s public postsecondary institutions.
Office of Retention and Student Success
The Office of Retention and Student Success implemented weekly emails to update colleges on retention and to identify specific actions (see for example the Spring 2014 outreach campaign). Dr. Bethany Miller, Director of Retention and Student Success, and the UK Analytics Team developed a retention prediction model. This model used data from five previous years of UK students to identify the 300 students closest to a 50% probability of not returning next fall. We targeted 300 students for outreach. Advisors in each undergraduate college conducted this individualized outreach to help promote the retention of the students. Using the retention prediction model and outreach we retained 62% of the students we identified as having a 50% probability of returning. This meant that 50 more students returned than would have been expected without the outreach.
UK 101: Academic Orientation
UK 101: Academic Orientation is a course designed to help first-year students in their transition to university life. Offered continuously since 1991, the course introduces strategies and resources that build a strong foundation for academic success while promoting opportunities for intellectual and personal growth. Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs collaborate to offer the course relying on the UK 101 Advisory Group, composed of faculty, staff, and students, to develop and evaluate the curriculum. UK 101 is one of the few courses at UK that is directed towards students of all majors and developed, taught and evaluated through campus-wide collaboration. Course evaluations completed by students, peer instructors, and instructors indicate that the course meets the learning outcomes for the majority of students.
Our goal is to reach at least 50% of the first-year cohort. Currently, 2445 first-year students are enrolled in UK 101 for Fall 2014 — compared to the 2080 students who completed the course in Fall 2013 — and more college-specific sections (approximately half of the 102 sections) were created for this term.
Since 2003, UK has experienced an overall positive growth in the first-second year retention rates for all students, though this trend has been long and slow. The chart below shows that this trend toward higher retention is seen in both students who enrolled in UK 101 and those who did not enroll. Within this general trend, there remains a clear differential between the first-second fall retention rates of those students who enrolled in UK 101 and those who did not.
Students enrolled in UK 101 consistently are retained at a higher rate than those not enrolled. UK 101 students also consistently graduate within 4 years at higher rates than students who do not take the course.
The Common Reading Experience
Since the inception of the Common Reading Experience in 2009, the average percent of students who read the selected book is 77%. In 2013, 1717 students attended the author lecture held on campus. In a post-lecture survey last year, 86% of students stated that they strongly agreed or moderately agreed that the Common Reading Experience enhanced their experience as a first-year UK student. In the same survey, 83% of students strongly agreed or moderately agreed that after reading the book Where Am I Wearing, they were more aware and engaged consumers.
The UK Common Reading Experience has always been a part of the UK101 curriculum, and this year was enhanced through further integration of the book into academic courses (CIS/WRD 110; A-E 120, Pathways to Creativity in the Visual Arts) that are a part of UK CORE. Programming was expanded throughout the first semester because of partnerships with numerous faculty, staff, and student groups.
See Blue U, Summer Orientation
The summer orientation program, See Blue U, was restructured to include small-group interactions between students and peer leaders and a greater emphasis on academic advising.
Living Learning Program
The UK Living Learning Program increased from 13 Living Learning Communities in 2013-14 to 18 in 2014-15. (See more on the Provost’s website about the work of the LLP Task Force.) There are over 1700 student participants in Fall 2014, double the previous year’s total. UGE and Student Affairs will work together to assess the impact of the significantly expanded Living-Learning Program.
The Study’s Peer-to-Peer Mentoring and Other Services offered in Academic Enhancement
UK offers peer tutoring for over 30 undergraduate courses through The Study, part of the Academic Enhancement unit in Undergraduate Education. The courses supported are primarily introductory courses in high-demand majors and STEM. We are opening a second location to offer these services on the north side of campus.
Data suggests a very strong, very positive correlation between accessing the Peer-to-Peer Tutoring (PTP) program for first year courses and student retention at the university from first to second fall. The chart below shows the impact PTP access has had on retention for the last six first-year cohorts:
In addition, Academic Enhancement offers Study Smarter Seminars, a one-time, three hour non-credit course designed to help students study more effectively and efficiently. The majority of students who utilize this seminar are first-year students.
Undergraduate Studies and Stuckert Career Center Reorganization
The Division of Undergraduate Education has initiated a restructuring of advising for undeclared students and career development. This involves linking the advising unit with the Stuckert Career Center. The staff in these two units will be asked to work together to develop more integrated services that connect academic advising and career exploration/development. The goal of this service re-alignment is to engage students in academic and career exploration as soon as they arrive on campus and help them consider majors, skills, and knowledge needed in relation to future careers.
Together we at UK continue to make improvements in our First Year Experience. And this means an improvement in our first year retention rates: UK’s 1-2nd Fall retention rate for the Fall 2013 cohort was 82.1%, the second year we have exceeded 82%.