SIP 6.1 Re-imagining the First Year of College

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

Re-imagining the First Year of College AASCU logoThe classes are chosen, the schedules are printed, and the students show up to your class fresh-faced and ready for their first year at MSU Denver. But just who are these first-year students? Many of them are true first-time-to-college freshmen, part of a class comprised this year of about 55% students of color, about 30% first-generation students, and roughly 35% students who are Pell eligible. Many are transfer students—about 60% of the MSU Denver student body comes here from other institutions. These students arrive with high expectations for their college degree and we help them get there, but the first year can be the most unstable in terms of retention and academic success. So how can we best support all of our first-year-at-MSU Denver students?

Take a SIP of This: Re-imagining the First Year of College

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) is sponsoring a national initiative to find the answer to this question, and MSU Denver is one of 44 participating institutions. The initiative, called “Re-imagining the First Year of College” (RFY), seeks to find ways to “dramatically improve the quality of learning and student experience in the first year, increase retention rates, and improve student success.” Now in the second year of this three-year project, RFY participants have been examining how institutional structures, curriculum, and student and faculty actions can be differently envisioned in order to improve outcomes. By focusing on both first-time-to-college and transfer students and approaching their academic and social/emotional needs, RFY participant institutions are sharing strategies that we at MSU Denver can use in order to support our very diverse student body and to promote equity in access and outcomes.

How can YOU support students in their first year at MSU Denver? 

  • Make the students’ social and emotional needs a priority. Help them to “onboard” (integrate into academic and social life on campus) by patiently answering questions about how things work here—even if you have written it into your syllabus or explained it in class ten times!
  • Help students to engage on campus. Encourage freshmen to visit the First Year Success program, and let transfer students know that the office of Transfer Student Success can help them to find their transfer affinity group (TAG). Point all first-year students to Student Activities where they might find a group of like-minded peers with whom to share their unique interests on campus.
  • Create an atmosphere for inclusion in your classroom. Set a tone that shows students that you respect diverse identities and lived experiences, and urge students to bring their cultural capital to bear during class discussions and activities. Let your students know that they belong here!
  • Encourage the development of a growth mindset. Organize your syllabus and assignments so that there are many low-risk opportunities to learn without negatively impacting final grades. Recognize that students in their first year at MSU Denver are managing an emotional load at the same time they are adapting to the informational load of your curriculum, and help them to see that mistakes and setbacks can actually lead to success if approached positively.
  • Help your students to navigate the institutional processes that are unique to MSU Denver. Ask transfer students if their credits have successfully come in, and offer to take a look at DegreeWorks with them to see if they are progressing in general studies or in their major/minor areas. Tell first-time-to-college students about the timeline for registration for spring classes, and remind them of important deadlines for drop-add, financial aid, and tuition payment. Just because the information is “out there” doesn’t mean that it is sinking in the first time—students can be overwhelmed with new procedures and details and it can be hard to remember everything!
  • Make sure that your students know about all of the academic supports available to them on campus. Familiarize them with Academic Advising, walk them over to the Tutoring Center or the Writing Center, and make sure that they know about the support for identity groups offered through the new Center for Equity and Student Achievement (303-556-6970). Directly connecting students with these FREE resources can make a big difference!

Still Thirsty? Take Another SIP of Re-imagining the First Year of College

  • The Chronicle of Higher Ed and Inside Higher Ed have been consistently running articles on novel approaches to orientation, first-year pedagogy and institutional practices for retention and success.
  • Check out the list of the 44 institutions participating in AASCU’s Re-imagining the First Year. Peruse their websites and see how they are messaging and enacting models of success for their first-year students.

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