Davenport Fights Freshman Flight

November 23, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Davenport University has joined a project to improve the first-year experience for freshmen in hopes of encouraging them to stay in school through graduation.

The school is part of a 13-school project led by the Policy Center on the First Year of College. Camille Colatosti, dean of the school of arts and sciences, said she decided to apply for the program after hearing John Gardner, executive director of the Policy Center on the First Year of College, speak about the project.

“One of the things that really caught my attention at the conference was that Dr. Gardner spoke of really a national crisis in higher education, where over 50 percent of all freshmen don’t make it through their freshman year,” she said. “It’s an issue we have grappled with here at Davenport.”

Colatosti said that even before being chosen for the project, Davenport was active in trying to make a student’s first year successful. In fall 2003, a career and education seminar was put in place for students to investigate career goals, interview people in different fields, and learn about test-taking and other college study skills. This fall, the school looked at the academic support services offered throughout the system, such as tutoring and test-taking help, and then located those services in the library, now called the Library Information Commons.

As part of the First Year of College project, a task force of faculty members, administration, support staff and students is looking at current practices, students’ needs, and what other universities are doing to help first-year students. The program is being planned between now and next spring and will be implemented by fall 2006.

“We’re putting together some action plans for what our program will look like,” she said.

Colatosti said the task force is looking at scheduling to determine which courses students would benefit from taking simultaneously, such as an English composition class, a speech class and a marketing class that all use a similar research technique.

“It’s really a lot of foundation classes that feed off each other and fit together well,” she said.

The task force also is looking at ways that students’ schedules might remain consistent, such as taking classes only on Tuesdays and Thursdays over four years, in order to help students who have jobs and find it difficult to change schedules every semester.

“They can plan their lives around the classes better if we do something like that,” she said.

Colatosti said they are also making sure faculty has the tools necessary for students to learn.

“Other strategies that we’re looking at relate to faculty — working with faculty to give them the skills and expertise that they need to help them really focus on what first-year students need,” she said.

Jackie Rautio, assistant director of career and education advising at the W.A. Lettinga Campus and a member of the task force, said she is excited about the project.

“It’s an opportunity to grow and evaluate our programs, but it’s also an opportunity for students, because they’re going to see a higher level of support and a higher level of connection with other students, as well as the resources that are available on campus.”

Rautio said the task force is a strong group because it incorporates all areas that affect the student’s first year.

“I think we’ll be able to really have a kind of a hands-on approach that will make a difference in their success,” she said.    

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