Orientation Rites: Seal the Deal: Creative Approaches to the Classic Summer Rite of Passage Help Acclimate Students and Ensure They Arrive in the Fall

By McClure, Ann | University Business, February 2008 | Go to article overview

Orientation Rites: Seal the Deal: Creative Approaches to the Classic Summer Rite of Passage Help Acclimate Students and Ensure They Arrive in the Fall


McClure, Ann, University Business


THEY'VE SEEN THE WEBSITE, THEY'VE taken the tour, and they've made the grade. But what do you do with accepted students to help them get settled on campus? According to the 2007 Cost of Recruiting Report from Noel-Levitz, an enrollment management consulting firm, it can cost anywhere between $121 and $1,941 to recruit a student, depending on the type of institution.

Summer orientation programs are the time to set the hook and ensure accepted students matriculate. "Often in the summer students are still shopping," says Craig Mack, president of the National Orientation Directors Association (NODA). Higher ed institutions can strengthen the connection by sending students home from orientation already registered for classes. Pre-enrollment orientation programs were one of the top 10 practices seen as having the greatest impact on retention, according to "What Works in Student Retention?" a 2004 survey conducted by ACT.

"Orientation pulls together all of the resources provided by a college and delivers them over a few days," Mack explains. "Then that information plays out over the first year."

Spring and summer orientation programs are often an incoming student's first chance to learn the campus and make new friends. The programs are run out of departments ranging from student affairs to dedicated first-year experience offices. The challenge is to convey the maximum amount of information with a minimum of burnout. "Typically at orientation, students get academic information, register for classes, and learn about making good choices for social issues," says Charlie Andrews, director of the Department of Campus Life at Florida International University and past-president of NODA. "You can only do so much in a two-day period."

Multimedia Magic

According to Mack, the first orientation program was held at Boston University in 1888. The school's original administrators wouldn't recognize the multimedia event that takes place today on that campus. Videos are shown on a 9-by-13-foot video screen and ribbons in the Agganis Arena. "It really wows people," says Shiney James, director of Orientation and Off Campus Services. In addition to informational dips, attendees see "commercial breaks," such as the one this year for a new student planner starring a dean in his commencement robes. "It got parents really excited and gave students a different perspective about administrators being approachable," explains James.

Throughout the two-day program, orientation staff members also record digital video and pictures, which are shown during the closing session. James says the presentation has evolved from slides through digital pictures to its present state, since the earlier versions "didn't have the impact anymore."

[ILLUSTRATIONS OMITTED]

Although parents often attend panel discussions during orientation, students frequently see more video presentations, including a 40-minute piece covering community service and student activities. Despite the startlingly long playtime in this age of short attention spans, she says students are enthralled because of the production.

Finally, students can participate in Common Ground, a team building exercise that requires them to navigate to historic areas in Boston using a GPS unit, solving riddles and sometimes using public transportation along the way.

This was the second year the exercise ran, and James noticed a jump in participation because of the praise it received online.

While BU uses technology to have students explore outside the classroom, students attending orientation at The Ohio State University get a sneak peak at technology they might encounter in the classroom. For the past two years, the TurningPoint audience response technology from Turning Technologies has been used in a session on student life.

As Matt Couch, director of Student Affairs for orientation, explains, the presentation is 45 minutes long, with video segments that cover student wellness on levels ranging from financial to social.

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