The crucial first semester

The first semester is make-or-break time for many students at Queensborough Community College in New York City. Faced with high dropout rates, QCC decided in 2009 to enroll all first-time, full-time students in one of six freshmen academies based on their field of study, reports the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Each academy has a freshmen coordinator, who serves as an academic adviser and student advocate, and a faculty coordinator, says Michele Cuomo, associate dean for academic affairs at QCC. Both collaborate with student affairs staff on activities to reinforce classroom learning and build community.

The six academies focus on Business, Education, Visual and Performing Arts, STEM, Health-Related Science or Liberal Arts. (Undecided students are enrolled in liberal arts.)

The freshmen coordinators and the office of new student enrollment oversee the entire post-admission process, including placement tests, financial aid, submission of medical records, confirmation of major, academic advisement and registration.

Students “are not just a face or a number— we get to know them pretty well,” says Anna Schneider, who’s worked as a coordinator in the business and arts academies. “They’re with us for maybe a year going through the academy for the first 30 credits, and it makes it easier for them to ask us questions.”

The college has also piloted an early alert system that allows faculty to flag students who are not attending or are in academic trouble, generating an e-mail that is immediately sent to the freshmen coordinator for that student’s academy.

Fewer first-year students are withdrawing from classes.

Faculty coordinators guide students to classes using “high-impact practices” (HIP), such as learning communities, shared intellectual experiences, collaborative assignments and projects, service and community-based learning, cornerstone courses and e-portfolios.

Cornerstone courses are section of required, foundational courses for particular programs—composition or math classes, for example—with content and activities customized for the students in particular academies. “Students become engaged because, say, they want to be a nurse, and they’re reading material that relates to healthcare, death and dying— they’re engaged because it relates to their major, and they’re beginning to make connections to their goals in a freshman composition course,” Cuomo says.

Faculty coordinators also reach out to the many adjuncts teaching at QCC.

 


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The crucial first semester — Joanne Jacobs

[...] first semester is make-or-break time for many community college students. “Freshmen academies” try to get new students on [...]

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