Academic journal article College Student Journal

Examining Students' Perceptions of Their First-Semester Experience at a Major Land-Grant Institution

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Examining Students' Perceptions of Their First-Semester Experience at a Major Land-Grant Institution

Article excerpt

This study examined the perceptions of freshmen students regarding their first-semester experiences at a major land-grant institution. A questionnaire was developed based on a review of the literature related to factors that influence students' success. Factors that influence students' success included time management/goal setting, academic advising, stress, and institutional fit/integration. These data provide insights on perceptions of student's early experiences on campus.

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The perceptions of freshmen students are of particular importance for student recruitment and retention. The attention both issues have drawn is due to the fluctuating number of college applicants and the decreased level of funding for institutions of higher education (Braunstein & McGrath, 1997). Students are faced with more options than ever before for postsecondary learning. As a result, competition to recruit these students escalates. In addition, nearly 57% of all college dropouts from four-year institutions leave before the start of their second year, and 40% of the students who begin college in America will not earn a degree (Tinto, 1993). Their reasons for departure vary from adjustment difficulties to feelings of isolation (Tinto, n.d.).

To address the issues of recruitment and retention, student perceptions should be assessed regularly. Students' perceptions of the college experience influence their grades, degree completion, satisfaction and other positive student outcomes (Gilbert, Chapman, Dietsche, Grayson & Gardner, 1997). Many factors have an affect on the perceptions themselves, including place of residence, finances, familial support, campus environment, and involvement in the campus community. Though some of these factors are beyond the control or scope of the institution, universities cannot afford to lose even one student because they do not address pertinent issues and concerns.

Braunstein and McGrath (1997) suggest that because every college and university has its own admission standards and policies, research should be conducted on individual campuses. In this way, administrators and faculty can develop a better understanding of their own students, as well as their institution's culture. A profile of the freshmen student population is distinctive to any university, as well as the schools and colleges within it, but many universities know little about that population. The majority of information collected by universities is demographic in nature, such as grade point average and ACT scores. However, other aspects of the first semester experience can be examined such as student's goal-setting behaviors, their views concerning relationships with faculty, staff and other students, and integration into campus life.

Tinto's (1987) model of departure depicts how the process of dropout from college is a longitudinal one. As the individual interacts with the academic and social systems of the college, his goals and commitments are continually modified, leading to persistence or departure. He observes that the consequences of high rates of departure from an institution may be severe, and that no longer will marketing campaigns and recruitment efforts be appropriate as the sole means for buttressing low enrollment.

Gardner (2001) points out that as enrollment soared, so did the number of students dropping out between the first and second years of college. The alarming rate of attrition focused attention on the first-year experience.

Beginning in the mid-eighties, recognition grew that colleges and universities are at least partially responsible for student retention. The number of institutions taking steps to respond to the situation more than doubled, and by 1995, 82% of institutions of higher education reported attempts to address retention (Gardner, 2001). Many colleges and universities term this movement "The First-Year Experience."

   The First-Year Experience is a philosophy
   for providing an underlying
   basis for an educational reform
   movement and a response to a set of
   structural problems inherent in the
   organization of the collegiate first
   year; that is, problems that may have
   a negative impact on the learning,
   success, satisfaction, and retention of
   first-year students (Gardner, 1997,
   p. … 
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