New project will re-design first-year college experience

Participating institutions to “re-imagine the first year” to create sustainable change in student success

college-successA new project from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), “Re-Imagining the First Year of College” (RFY), is aimed at ensuring success for all students, particularly those who have historically been underserved by higher education: low income, first generation, and students of color.

Supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and USA Funds, AASCU created a coalition that will work together for three years to develop comprehensive, institutional transformation that redesigns the first year of college and creates sustainable change for student success.

“Historically, AASCU and its members have been committed to student success with a particular concern for those students who have shown great promise but who have encountered stumbling blocks along the way,” says AASCU President Muriel Howard.

The first year of college has emerged as the critical barrier to college success, the point at which colleges experience the greatest loss of students. The RFY project recognizes that no single intervention will solve student performance, and that solutions that fail to reflect the differing needs of a changing student body will not be successful.

(Next page: How participating institutions will benefit)

RFY seeks to inspire new and innovative approaches that work for all members of an increasingly diverse, multicultural, undergraduate student body, eliminating the achievement disparities that have plagued U.S. higher education for generations. Ultimately, re-designing this critical first year will allow for broader reform of the undergraduate experience in the future.

“The Re-Imagining the First Year of College initiative is further testament to this commitment. It is a groundbreaking collaboration that we believe will substantively and sustainably alter the first-year experience for students at the AASCU member institutions who are participating. We are grateful to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and USA Funds for their support of this innovative project,” says Howard.

“Increasing the number of Americans with college degrees is a critical national need,” says George Mehaffy, AASCU Vice President for Academic Leadership and Change.

“Research tells us that a college degree not only improves an individual’s economic well-being and overall quality of life, but also helps build the American middle class, assists in strengthening our democracy, and makes the United States stronger and more globally competitive. I am excited that so many AASCU institutions will commit their enormous talent and knowledge to the success of this initiative, which I believe will have a profound effect on undergraduate education in the 21st century,” says Mehaffy.

Participating institutions will form a learning community that reviews and shares evidence-based practices, programs and implementation strategies. The RFY initiative entails a comprehensive, “top-down, bottom-up” 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.

Participants will receive extensive support through national meetings, expert webinars, individual consultation, and online resources and tools. The project will build a robust collection of integrated strategies, programs and approaches that participating campuses can adapt to improve student success. As the project advances, AASCU will share key findings with the broader higher education community.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

Laura Ascione