Academic journal article College Student Journal

Effectiveness of a Freshman Seminar in an Urban University: Measurement of Selected Indicators

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Effectiveness of a Freshman Seminar in an Urban University: Measurement of Selected Indicators

Article excerpt

This study investigated the effectiveness of a freshman seminar in enhancing the students' overall perception of: (a) being prepared for the university experience, (b) satisfactory selection of a college major, (c) general confidence as a student, (d) knowledge of campus resources, and (e) study skills competence. One-hundred eighteen students responded to pre- and post-test questionnaires. Results indicated a significant gain on four of the five with no evident positive impact on the selection of a major. On the other four questions, positive change was evident independent of entering ability levels with the exception of study skills where the greater gain was obtained by students with low high school grade point averages.

A common concern among institutions of higher education in the United States is retention. Schaeffer (1999) reports a national attrition rate of 25 percent and notes that the costs are more than just loss of funds to the institution. There is a significant negative personal impact on many of the students.

Historically (Beal & Noel, 1980), the period between freshman and sophomore years has been the time of greatest attrition. Tinto (1987) found that of the students who leave, 75% do so during or immediately after the first semester. Liu and Liu (1999) confirm a continuing problem with freshmen retention, noting that transfer students tend to continue enrollment at a higher rate than do entering freshmen.

Students enter the college and university setting from a myriad of diverse backgrounds, including various levels of academic preparation, ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, and reasons for enrolling in college. There are, of course, many reasons for leaving, not all of which are within the scope of responsibility of the institution. It is, however, reasonable to assume that in many instances the decision to leave rests simply on the student's lack of success in the setting. This appears particularly evident for freshman who enter the setting unprepared personally and academically for the difficult transition from secondary to post-secondary education. Kendall (1999) found, for example, that in one state system, one-half of the system's entering freshmen are required to take remedial classes in math and English.

Colleges and universities often consider offering a freshman course or seminar focused on content and experiences to facilitate the transition between secondary and post-secondary education. Fidler and Hunter (1989) report that of the various interventions used to enhance freshman success, the freshman seminar is typically the most effective. With samples obtained over a period of fourteen years, they found that students at the University of South Carolina who took the freshman seminar course had a higher sophomore retention rate and found similar findings of positive relationships between retention and participation in freshman seminar courses at a variety of other institutions as well.

Shanley and Witten (1990) and Cone (1991) also report that dropout rates for freshman seminar participants were significantly lower than non-participants. Participation in such seminars results in increased knowledge about campus services and activities (Fidler & Hunter, 1989), and this may be one of the features which enhances the retention rate.

Studies also suggest a link between participation in a freshman seminar and higher eventual grade point averages. For example, Maisto and Tammi (1991) found that students enrolled in a freshman seminar course earn significantly higher grade point averages than do non participants and also report more out of class contact with faculty. In a study at a small liberal arts college, Hyers and Joslin (1998) found that grades earned in a required freshman year seminar were better predictors of academic achievement and persistence than high school rank and S.A.T scores.

Wilkie and Kuckuck's (1989) report that that freshman seminar courses result in many positive developments for freshmen, including development of appropriate study skills and familiarity with university resources. …

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