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4 Ways to Ease Students' Transition to College

The University of Oregon is improving retention rates with a variety of student supports that help pave the way to success on campus and beyond.

group of college students walking

Adjusting to life in college is one of the most challenging transitions in life. For many students, there are new routines to establish, workloads to balance, personal finances to manage — all while living away from home for the first time. It is incumbent upon universities to design and implement support systems that help students navigate their new environment and persist to graduation.

The national average of students returning to college after their freshman year is only 61 percent, according to research by the National Student Clearinghouse Resource Center. However, here at the University of Oregon, the average is 87 percent. Given the low national rate of student retention after their freshman year, we continually assess the best ways to support students, ease the transition to college and improve retention rates.

The Challenges Students Face

The weeks leading up to leaving for college and the first few months living on campus are exciting, but for some students it can also create a lot of anxiety. The stress involved with beginning college, building new support networks, facing academic challenges and addressing time management are just some of the factors can be quite overwhelming.

To help with this transition, our Student Services and Enrollment Management Research and Assessment team examined the issues surrounding student retention. Initial models were designed to identify at-risk students and create programs to address their needs. As the modeling was continually refined, the results were shared with our university leaders and actions were taken to improve retention rates. Using a feedback loop based on admitted student surveys and transition surveys, plus additional research, we continually hone our processes to better understand retention issues and improve retention rates.

Based on student feedback and research, we implemented programs across four areas that help address student retention rates:

  • Building grassroots community outreach programs;
  • Enhancing housing options;
  • Strengthening student orientation programs; and
  • Simplifying enrollment and class scheduling.

1) Building Grassroots Community Outreach Programs

To help strengthen the connection between the university and its communities, we established community outreach programs that make prospective students and their families feel comfortable as they prepare for college. For instance, we partnered with the Woodburn Chamber of Commerce to sponsor Fiesta Mexicana, an annual celebration of Hispanic culture, and with Self-Enhancement Inc., a community-based organization in Portland, to help support events that familiarize prospective students and their families with the college enrollment process and the rigors of college. By embedding ourselves in local communities when the students are in middle school or high school, we have eased the transition from high school to college.

2) Enhancing Housing Options

Students spend more time outside the classroom than in class, so we continually examine the places where students live. Creating spaces in residence halls that support each student's unique needs takes many forms. From faculty in residence to Academic Residential Communities, we focus on ways to ease housing issues. This year, we introduced a web-based room selection process that enables students to choose their rooms in the same manner as choosing tickets to a concert. Additionally, our newest residence hall, Kalapuya Ilihi, was named in honor of the indigenous people of the Willamette Valley in Oregon, to support all students and recognize the first residents. We strongly believe that creating living spaces that make new students feel comfortable is so important that we now require new freshmen to live on campus.

3) Strengthening Student Orientation Programs

Our orientation program is called IntroDUCKtion — a play on words since our mascot is a Duck. We created "flocks" (again, playing up the angle of being a Duck) that split the total student attendees (400) for each orientation session into small groups of 20. These flocks of 20 attend a summer session together to help foster new relationships. During the first week that students are back on campus, known as the Week of Welcome, they return to their flock to re-connect with the other 19 students who were in their orientation group. This effort aids in making a big school feel like a small community.

4) Simplifying Enrollment and Class Scheduling

Many remember when course registration was a very frustrating, confusing and time-consuming process. It has evolved from standing in line for hours to register for classes, to telephone registration, and now to web-based registration. Fortunately, new technologies have made class scheduling much easier, but we have also added another element to how students register for classes.

Instead of simply focusing on which classes to take, we designed a system to aid students in developing time management skills by presenting courses and the week as blocks of time — classroom time, study time, work, free time, etc. This strategy encouraged students to manage time comprehensively — a valuable skill for when they enter the workforce. Combining the registration enhancements with degree audit systems enables students to stay on track to graduate in four years.

Creating a Better Campus Experience

These programs make the campus experience more user friendly, ease the transition to college and enable on-time graduation. The best way to make college affordable is to make a four-year degree attainable in four years. Our goal is to help students ease into college life and set them on a course to graduate on schedule, and the data shows that our programs have helped raise retention rates at the University of Oregon.

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