HSU Joins Nationwide Effort to Re-Imagine the First-Year College Experience

Feb 06, 2016

Humboldt State University is one of 44 colleges nationwide selected for a First-Year Experience pilot program coordinated by the Association of American State Colleges and Universities (AASCU).

The three-year program, Re-imagining the First Year of College (RFY), is a broad initiative aimed at transforming the first year of college to improve students’ chances of success in their undergraduate years. It is funded through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and USA Funds.

The first year of college has emerged as a critical barrier to student success, the point at which undergraduate institutions experience the greatest loss of students. The goal of the RFY is to help the 44 participating colleges implement changes that enhance the first-year experience and increase retention and improve graduation rates, particularly among historically underserved populations. Ultimately, the results of the project will be shared with the 420 members of the AASCU.

As part of the project, Humboldt State will implement proven and innovative strategies and programs, adapting them to the campus’s unique environment. The strategies focus on four areas: Institutional intentionality, curriculum, faculty and staff roles, and student roles. HSU will also participate in a learning community with the other colleges and universities selected for the RFY.

“Through our association with the RFY, we will work to coalesce evidence-based activities and interventions into a package that will better serve all of our first-year students. This will enhance academic success by ensuring students are well prepared and motivated for their second year of college and that they remain on-track to graduate with their degree,” says HSU Provost Alex Enyedi. “To borrow a medical research analogy, the RFY project will assess how multiple institutions address these issues and then identify best practices, with high efficacy, that can be shared nationwide.”

Theo Kalikow, who served as HSU’s interim provost in fall 2015, spearheaded HSU’s efforts to join the RFY. “What the Re-Imagining First Year project is looking to do is mobilize the stuff we know works so it can be applied across the board. The RFY will put together the best high-impact practices--like internships and learning communities--and put it into a coherent package so we can make a difference,” Kalikow says.

HSU has already brought innovative changes to student’s first year experiences with initiatives like the Retention through Academic Mentoring Program (RAMP) and the Klamath Connection. Both aim to deepen a student's connection to the campus community. RAMP utilizes peer-mentoring from upperclassmen to help freshmen adjust to college life and excel in their first year. The Klamath Connection program, which began last fall, brings science-minded freshmen together for an intensive introduction to the area’s natural environment. Over the academic year, the students take science and general education courses tailored specifically for this program.

“I am hopeful we can share successful programs like RAMP and the FYE Klamath Connection created at HSU with other universities in our sector--regional state universities—so they can design programs that serve and positively impact first-year student success on their campuses,” says Enyedi.

Lisa Castellino, director of HSU’s Office of Institutional Research & Planning, says to complete such a project, higher education needs to look at both short- and long-term measures. “In the end, we hope this process ends up with students staying here and completing their baccalaureate,” she says. “But, it's more than that. It's about how they academically and socially integrate into higher education and how they change themselves. Higher education is a transformative experience, so we are looking for ways to measure that.”

The AASCU is kicking off the RFY initiative with a conference of the association’s 2016 Academic Affairs Winter Meeting in Austin, Texas, Feb. 4-6.