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GSU program aims to retain more freshmen

FYE targets problem areas for first-year students

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    For students just out of high school, life at college can be overwhelming. Newfound independence, a vibrant social scene and advanced academics force freshmen to adjust quickly.
    Since the mid-1980s, Georgia Southern University has attempted to make the transition from high school to college easier for its students through mandatory programs. One program is First-Year Experience (FYE).
    FYE features small orientation classes designed to give students extra support, offers advising for students with undeclared majors, and holds information sessions about student resources.
    "The program aims to simultaneously challenge and support students," said Dr. Chris Caplinger, director of First-Year-Experience. "We're here to help, not dumb down standards."
    Students generally find the program helpful.
    "FYE definitely had a huge, lasting, positive impact on my experience," said rising junior Jamie Randolph."We were all freshmen going through things together, and that created community."
    But Caplinger hopes to improve FYE's success.
    In 2005, only 76.5 percent of GSU freshmen returned for their sophomore year of school, meaning that nearly a quarter dropped out. Also, less than half of the students who filled out a specific survey in 2005-2006 indicated that GSU "accurately communicated academic expectations prior to enrollment" to a "high" or "very high" degree.
    Officials said it became evident that many freshmen weren't getting the support they needed during their first year at college. This led to the creation of The Faculty Task Force, a group of GSU faculty that develops initiatives to improve FYE before and after enrollment.
    Caplinger said FYE hopes to help students through improvement in three categories: curriculum, expectations, and intervention. While most changes to the program won't take effect until Fall 2008, a few adjustments recommended by the Task Force will be visible next semester.
    Georgia Southern will mail brochures to students who have participated in SOAR, the orientation session for incoming freshmen during the summer. The brochures will more fully outline GSU's academic and social expectations and hopefully keep students from being overwhelmed when they arrive at school, Caplinger said.
    Getting to know adults and professors is central to FYE's goals. Beginning in the fall, students will be able to have a conversation with their professors the Sunday before they begin classes.
    Caplinger said he is most enthusiastic about possible changes to the mandatory FYE class. This fall, GSU will be piloting "passion courses" in which professors teach a subject of their choice to a small group of freshmen.
    "We want students to understand that college is more than jumping through a series of hoops," Caplinger said. "Will these classes interest everyone? No, but hopefully they'll light a fire in some students' academic experience."
    The changes to FYE should go a long way in helping the program achieve its overarching goal: making students responsible, educated adults.
    "We want students to leave their first year knowing that they've got to be the ones to make decisions," Caplinger said. "In high school they were rewarded for being good rule followers, but that's not the way the real world works. We want students to be responsible and successful by their sophomore year."
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