College Courses: 5 Elements to Include for First Year Students

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Students enter college from different backgrounds and situations. They might be fully college-ready; meanwhile, others need help. Besides that, college students might not know how to effectively study and attend classes. Thus, colleges have created first-year courses to help guide these students. The What Works Intervention Report produced by the Department of Education shows that students who attend first-year courses did better in college. With more online learning, first-year college courses become a valuable tool for retention and college-career guidance. They can be embedded in core courses like biology and offer various components such as socialization and learning support. Higher-ed leaders can include these five elements for these first-year college courses.


1.) Produce College Courses Creating a Connection Between the Instructor and the Student

First-year students need connection. Thus, the student and instructor interaction, especially for online courses, fosters learning. Studies indicate faculty impact their students more than students’ peers. Regular engagement like emails, discussion boards, video introductions, and one-on-one meetings establish a connection between the student and the instructor. Overall, these students will feel less isolated and more willing to share. Additionally, with increasing student mental health concerns, college leaders direct their staff to focus on the student-instructor connection. Many online students experience disconnection. Therefore, focusing on student connection, aids success and retention.


2.) Design and Implement Success Strategies in First Year College Courses

To be successful, first-year students rely on success strategies that will help them in college and afterward. Therefore, deans ensure students take ownership of their learning and create intentional experiences in the first-year college courses. Because many students manage a full-time job, support a family, and attend college for the first time, they need support. A student might not have written a paper in 20 years, or a student might be homeless. Thus, first-year courses teach time management and show students how to handle these obstacles. The classes can teach students how to study. College leaders think about and plan for these situations when developing first-year courses.


3.) Create Mini-Cohorts Using Subjects and by Interest for First-Year College Courses

Besides that, leaders form and build mini-cohorts in first-year college courses. To help students connect with their peers, especially with an online class, group students by their majors or professional interests. Moreover, create small sections or limit the enrollment per first-year course. It can spur connections. As cohorts start and finish on the same track, the familiarity builds student bonding. These students rely on each other in their cohorts because of their common educational goals.


4.) Train Faculty to Help Recognize At-Risk Students

First-year courses help determine which students might struggle. These students may not recognize the gaps in their learning or understand metacognition—how they learn. Thus, leaders provide training for faculty to help them recognize at-risk students. The training can include customer service, communication, differentiated instruction, and vetting. Thus, leaders should exhaustively review faculty to ensure they are committed to a student’s success. Besides that, leaders direct first-year course faculty, so they know the different college services. Advising and other services should be included in the course design. Instructors teach students how, where, and when to get help.


5.) Include Inclusive Design for First-Year College Courses

Therefore, leaders review or add inclusive design for first-year college courses. According to the UPCEA, course objectives and goals focus on diversity, detangling stereotypes while imbuing the richness of cultures. Thus, the course content like images, wording, and messages includes diversity and various cultural perspectives. Moreover, with the increase in credentialing—upskilling, many colleges, such as community colleges have improved efforts, targeting adult learners. Many adult learners are BIPOC. Leaders can address this audience with inclusive design for first-year college courses.


Summing up, higher-ed leaders can help design and create effective, first-year college courses. Students who take these courses tend to be more successful in college than students who do not. Therefore, elements like success strategies, cohorts, and inclusive design aid the success of these college courses. Lastly, training faculty to successfully teach these classes helps them recognize at-risk students and build a connection with their students. These methods support student success and retention.


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