National effort launches to make the first year of college work for everyone

September 15th, 2016

AASCU’s re-imagining the first year of college kicksoff with implementation of innovations at 44 state colleges & universities.


As the Fall 2016 semester kicks off, 44 institutions of higher education participating in the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ (AASCU) “Re-Imagining the First Year of College” (RFY) project have begun to implement innovative practices and programs on their campuses aimed at helping first- year students.

As part of  RFY—a three-year initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and USA Funds—the 44 State Colleges and Universities (SCUs) are working together as a learning community to develop comprehensive, institutional transformation that redesigns the first year of college and creates sustainable change for student success. The project is aimed at ensuring the success of all first-year students, but particularly those who have historically been underserved by higher education: low income, first generation, and minority students.

Indiana University (IU) Kokomo is one of five Indiana University System campuses participating in RFY. According to Christina Downey, the Interim Assistant Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Student Success at IU Kokomo, the RFY project differs from most homegrown campus change initiatives because participants are being supported by the RFY community with cutting edge information on best practices, which lends a unique energy to the project.

“AASCU has done a great job of providing the structure and support for change, while giving campuses the autonomy to find their own paths,” said Downey.

Unlike past pilot programs focused on student success, the RFY initiative is a large-scale undertaking involving the implementation of promising practices and sharing of collective knowledge among SCUs of all sizes and types. The project entails both a comprehensive and collaborative approach that engages the whole campus in focusing on four key areas to help first-year students succeed: institutional intentionality, curriculum redesign, changes in faculty and staff roles, and changes in student roles.

Among the innovations in institutional intentionality that IU Kokomo will implement this Fall is a Department Incentives Planning Toolkit, which will provide financial incentives for departments campus-wide to think creatively about student success. If departments complete certain objectives over the course of a year, they can qualify for additional funding for travel, research or other needs. The university also is implementing innovations involving student resiliency and career pathways, among other areas.

The 44 institutions participating in RFY have developed comprehensive implementation plans and formed a virtual learning community that reviews and shares evidence-based practices, programs and implementation strategies. A number of student success experts from around the country and 14 corporate partners are also part of the learning community. This crowdsourcing approach to institutional transformation is key to its success, according to Karen Morgan, Interim Assistant Provost at New Jersey City University (NJCU).

“The fact that accountability is not only communicated but expected is critical,” said Morgan. “We have the support of other institutions that are experiencing similar challenges and meeting them head on with a proactive approach. Documenting these challenges will provide an archive of research and literature,” she added.

NJCU—whose first-year student population has a high percentage of enrollees in English as a Second Language and remedial courses—is committed to student success as one of its institutional priorities. Under RFY, the university will begin implementing initiatives like virtual advising, systematized alerts that monitor student progress, and multi-semester schedules. Additionally, the campus has introduced a debt-free promise program for state residents with a family household income of $60,000 or less. Under that program, NJCU will pick up the expenses for any full-time students whose education costs exceed what they have received in federal and state grants.

Best practices, lessons learned and results from the RFY project will be shared with other SCUs via webinars, publications and conferences. AASCU is hopeful that additional RFY cohorts will be formed in the future.

“We are incredibly encouraged by the enthusiasm we have seen from SCUs participating in RFY, as well as the ambitious and outcomes-driven implementation plans they have developed,” said George Mehaffy, Vice President of Academic Leadership and Change at AASCU and the visionary behind RFY. “We look forward to hearing about the results of their initiatives over the coming months and sharing the broader learnings with other SCUs dedicated to creating a brighter future for students from all walks of life,” he added.

For more information about RFY, including a list of participating institutions, please visit

Material from a press release was used in this report.

About the Author:

Meris Stansbury

Meris Stansbury is the Managing Editor of eCampus News, and was formerly the Associate Editor of eSchool News. Before working at eSchool Media, Meris worked as an assistant editor for The World and I, an online curriculum publication. She graduated cum laude from Kenyon College in 2006 with a BA in English, and enjoys spending way too much time either reading or cooking.

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