Pre-first-year programming for long term student success

Pre-first-year programming for long term student success

In this age of increasing student mobility, more and more higher education institutions on both sides of the Atlantic are beginning to pay special attention to the youngest participants on the worldwide academic stage: first-year students. Why? High impact learning experiences early on can contribute to long-term student success. Institutions are increasingly required to report performance metrics such as student retention, time-to-degree and graduate employability,  so it’s no wonder that interventions like pre-first-year education abroad are becoming more attractive.

High-impact Learning

Carefully designed education abroad programmes that include features of first-year seminars are an ideal way of facilitating the transition from secondary school to university whilst introducing an international element that will remain with the students as they progress through their studies. In 2003, Michigan State University (MSU) combined principles of on-campus programming for first-year-students with a strong focus on education abroad. What has emerged over the past nine years is a robust and much emulated programming model (for example, see Auburn University’s program for pre-freshman honor students) that continues to develop.

The programme aims to introduce students to the scholarly life and serve as learning communities in which students interact in small groups with faculty and peers. Typically two weeks long, the programme offers a broad range of thematic content. Faculty and staff are chosen primarily based on their passion and ability for working with pre-first-year students and are required to participate in pre-programme training that includes an introduction to student development theory. A two-day on-campus orientation programme prepares students for the experience and helps them bond as a group.

Strengthening leadership skills

Purdue University has offered a similar programme since August 2011. Its Global Leadership Program is designed exclusively for incoming first-year students. It aims to build a foundation for future global experiences, and to create a special cohort within each incoming class. The programme takes an interdisciplinary approach to enable participants to engage with their surroundings and each other. Participants are challenged to identify and absorb the leadership building opportunities readily available through immersion into a foreign environment. Plans are underway to strengthen the programme’s link to the university’s First Year Experience initiative by incorporating Purdue’s Common Reading Program.

Both the MSU and Purdue programmes attract a variety of majors as well as a high percentage of high-achievers. And both programmes have successfully motivated students to participate in additional learning abroad opportunities. Such programmes provide students with an international experience to build on and – perhaps most importantly to them when they arrive on campus – familiar faces to help ease the transition to life on campus.

An aid to enrolment management

A further advantage of these types of programmes can be seen from the institution’s perspective with regard to enrolment management. Northeastern University’s program provides an enrolment opportunity to talented first year students who are being admitted to NU for the spring semester. The programme enables students to develop their competencies abroad prior to the start of their academic studies in their home country, helping them develop the ‘skills to differentiate themselves in the classroom, the job market, and beyond’.

We expect that the trend for increased pre-first-year and first-year student mobility will continue as more and more higher education institutions worldwide begin to pay special attention to the needs of their youngest students and as more and more students demand quality opportunities to develop themselves and their intercultural skills.

By Inge Steglitz and Brian D. Harley

Inge Steglitz is Assistant Director for Academic Relations Office of Study Abroad, Michigan State University, USA.

Brian Harley is Associate Dean, International Programs; Director, Programs for Study Abroad at Purdue University, USA.