In August, Plymouth State was chosen as a “founding institution,” one of only 12 out of 219 colleges and universities participating in Phase II of the national project Foundations of Excellence in the First College Year (see Plymouth Magazine Annual Report, Fall 2003). Sponsored jointly by the Policy Center on the First Year of College and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the two-year project will develop a model of excellence for the first college year which can be used by public colleges and universities to develop and refine their overall approach to educating new students. Funding was provided by Lumina Foundation for Education and The Atlantic Philanthropies.
To qualify for selection in Phase II, a formal application and a report on the work of Phase I were judged by members of an external review board, who made recommendations to the Policy Center. Final decisions were based on the readiness of the founding institutions to participate, their prior commitment to first-year students and their particular demographic/geographic characteristics.
“We’re so excited to be part of this project,” says Julie Bernier, associate vice president for undergraduate studies. “I credit the efforts of our faculty and staff, who have long been committed to developing the best possible experience for our first-year students. We were selected for our track record of successful first-year work, our willingness to take a critical look at every aspect of the programs and services we provide and to identify ways we can do things even better.”
During 2003-2004, Policy Center staff, researchers from Penn State and other consultants will work with and visit the founding institutions, each of which will:
- Establish a task force to undertake a major study of their first-year experience;
- Collect and provide existing campus baseline assessment data;
- Conduct an audit of current practices specifically designed to enhance the success of first-year students;
- Investigate first-year instruction across the curriculum;
- Conduct assessments of first-year student outcomes, including use of the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE).
Founding institutions will measure their effectiveness in recruiting, admitting, housing, orienting, supporting, advising and teaching new students. Programmatic improvements can then be made to increase student learning, success and persistence to graduation.—KH
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