Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Oh no, “the Sophomore Year Experience”

I can just hear it now: Some detractors of higher education efforts to provide more support for students will be saying: “Give me a break, they are doing it again, more “hand holding” for still another cohort.”

The “they” refers to the University of South Carolina and its National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition. As many of my readers will know, this is an internationally prominent higher education center which provides professional development support and a literature base to help post secondary institutions be more successful with “students in transition.” Founded in 1986 by this blogger, the Center has been highly successful in getting the academy to pay more attention to the importance of different student “transitions” during the undergraduate period and then to enable institutions to provide more appropriate support to help students move successfully through these transitions.

Until recently the transitions that we paid the most attention to where the one entering college, and the one leaving college, respectively known as “the first-year experience” and “the senior year experience.” The Center’s latest push is to call attention to the needs of second year students. Previously, the Center had published a monograph on this topic, done some surveying of second year educational practices, and taken the lead under the Center’s Executive Director, Stuart Hunter, to produce a book with Jossey-Bass Publishing, “Helping Sophomores Achieve”, October 2009.

The latest flag run up the pole was a specific professional development activity hosted by the Center in Savannah, April 11-13, an inaugural “Sophomore Success Institute” attended by approximately 120 higher educators from the US, Canada, and the Republic of Ireland.

I am going into some detail here to point all this out to simply call your attention to this new area of focus. I is reasonable to assume there will be future “institutes” on this topic, more research and then publishing, and especially more attention on campuses. If you would like to converse electronically about this and join a national network of interested parties, USC maintains a sophomore year experience listserv (subscribe at www.sc.edu/fye)

Back to the hypothetical detractor’s comment: yes, they are at it again—as I have illustrated with the USC sponsored activities above.

And, yes, this is another example of “hand holding” if by that you will accept my operational definition of that as some kind of intentional, educationally purposeful intervention designed to target a cohort of similar students and to increase their probability of success.

In spite of the recession, and the deficit, we are now, thank goodness, in a national leadership era when the current Presidential administration is challenging us as a country to regain our world leadership position in both access and student success. We can’t achieve this without directing increased attention to various cohorts and specific bottlenecks, barriers, in the educational pipeline. While it may have been assumed that once we get students past the first year, they are “over the hump” there is enormous evidence to the contrary. And so this focus on the second year is about taking additional efforts to get students “over the hump”.

When I started the formerly called “Freshman Year Experience” conferences, all I asked was: “Do you have a “freshman year experience”? “Do your students need a “freshman year experience”? What is the “freshman year experience”? I am experiencing a delightful sense of déjà vu and find myself asking those questions all over again—with one difference: this time, it’s about sophomores. While the Greeks meant “wise fools” to be the meaning of this term, I would argue that to ignore this cohort, we would be unwise
fools.

-John Gardner