Academic journal article Journal of International Students

First Year Experience: How We Can Better Assist First-Year International Students in Higher Education

Academic journal article Journal of International Students

First Year Experience: How We Can Better Assist First-Year International Students in Higher Education

Article excerpt

The first year of college often proves to be the most difficult for many undergraduate students. Dropout rates can skyrocket when students feel disconnected or overwhelmed (Li, Chen, & Duanmu, 2009). In recent years, many colleges and universities have begun to introduce First Year Experience (FYE) programs to help first year undergraduate students to better adjust to the college environment and prepare them to be more successful in their college life. The FYE course typically extends basic orientation content and student development across the first year. Topics range from academic skills, to wellness and stress management, and, research conducted by the Policy Center on the First Year of College found that first year seminars are offered by 90% of all four-year institutions in the U.S. (Barefoot, 2003). An environmental scan performed by the University in one study revealed that 17 of 18 competitor institutions and 100% of aspirant institutions offered an FYE (Upcraft, Gardner, & Barefoot, 2005). Although most FYE programs in various colleges and universities share similar goals, institutions typically customize their programs to align with their university's mission and to reflect the particular needs of their student population. Previous research showed that in general, students evaluated FYE courses positively. However, the literature results are mixed, as there are significant differences between public and private colleges, between large and small colleges, and between those are focused on teaching as opposed to research (Jamelske, 2009). To the authors' knowledge, there is no research that has focused on evaluating FYE courses for a growing population on the American college campus-international students (IS).

In recent years, the number of IS in U.S. colleges and universities has increased significantly. In 2014, there were 886,052 IS enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities (Institute of International Education, 2014)-a record high. When IS come to the United States to study they face unique challenges, including lack of familiarity with American culture and the American college environment, lack of English proficiency, uncertainty about career options, and feelings of social isolation, loneliness, and even depression (Sherry & Chui, 2010; Yan & Cardinal, 2013). At the same time, colleges and universities have discovered many challenges in supporting the growing population of IS, including academic and non-academic problems (Sawir, 2013). Compared to domestic students (DS), IS are more dependent on the host university in various ways. For example, while DS may have other alternative sources for support (e.g., family, communities outside of universities), IS experience relatively much less sources of belongingness, connectedness, and oneness (Cho & Yu, 2015). That said, the institutions that recruit these students are also ethically required to serve in a quasi, in loco parentis role, helping them adapt to their surroundings (Sweeton & Davis, 2004). Offering a suitable support program for IS also increases the perceived organization support for IS, which directly increase their emotional outcomes, such as emotional stability and school-life satisfaction, and reduced psychological stress (Cho & Yu, 2015).

So far, there are very limited first year programs in American higher education designed or customized for IS (Roy, 2013). In addition, as most research on educational curriculums are from studies of DS (Glass, 2012), it is unclear what should be included in an FYE program to best serve IS. The current study used quantitative and qualitative methods to evaluate the content and structure of a FYE program designed for IS in an American college. We aim to address the following research questions: 1. What topics and contents do IS want to include in an FYE curriculum? 2. What class structure and format do IS prefer? 3. What are appropriate measures to evaluate a FYE course? Finally, based on our exploration and discussion, we formed a "recommendation list" for colleges and universities who are interested in opening or improving their FYE classes for IS. …

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