A checkup call from the top

Valuable student support measure or a bit of a gesture?

In addition to spending what must be a huge amount over the past few months on advertising in the trade press, Boston University has undertaken another big investment, according to The Boston Globe, checking up on new students:

With new students wrapping up their first month on campus, school staff and administrators, including the provost and dean of students, spent the week calling all 4,300 first-year and transfer students, an ambitious gesture designed to make them feel at home.

“It’s about community,’’ said Kenneth Elmore, the university’s dean of students. “We want students to know we’re here to help.’’

Many administrators and researchers applaud the school for reaching out to students during the pivotal first semester, a time when they are at greater risk of falling behind and dropping out. Nationally, just 57 percent of full-time students at four-year colleges graduate within six years.

‘It’s about community. We want students to know we’re here to help. . . . We tell them we’re here to help them steer their course.’

“The most productive thing you can do is focus on the early experience,’’ said John N. Gardner, the head of a North Carolina institute that works with universities to improve student retention. “If they go unnoticed and unaddressed, academic problems can become severe.’’

I do think this is quite a good idea, particularly with the low completion rates referred to here. And it is undoubtedly the case that the early experience is particularly important. However, in isolation, one ‘phone call will not be sufficient and does need to be just a part of a larger student support package. Would it work in the UK? Or would it be seen as a bit an empty gesture?

Getting Freshers to read, discuss and engage

THE reports on a really rather creative initiative at St Andrews
reluctant

Every new student enrolling at the University of St Andrews this autumn will be sent a novel during the summer and will be encouraged to discuss it with other freshers when they arrive on campus in September. The university is distributing Mohsin Hamid’s novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a Man Booker-shortlisted work, to all 1,500 new undergraduates in an initiative to give students a common discussion topic and to focus their energies on broad intellectual debate rather than narrow academic study.

This is a terrific idea. Helps with student induction and orientation in halls and ensures that the residential experience has a learning dimension too. Wish we’d thought of it

Hello Freshers: welcoming new students to university

Welcoming new students…

Universities seems to have got an awful lot better at induction in recent years. Judging though by the Cornell University New Students site, UK institutions have quite a long way yet to go.

Although the volume of support material does look a bit overwhelming, it is well organised and accessible. From a UK perspective, the sheer scale of the student support infrastructure is awesome. There is much here we can learn from.

An education in drinking?

According to a recent story in The Times it is “Last orders for boozy freshers”.

THE days of new students being initiated into binge drinking at universities may be numbered. The government is considering plans to clamp down on “freshers’ weeks”, where students are encouraged to consume vast quantities of cheap alcohol.

Beer

The prime minister and his policy team have been impressed by experts at a Downing Street seminar who deplored the scale of drunkenness at university. Professor Oliver James, a liver disease specialist and head of the medical faculty at Newcastle University, told Gordon Brown that he was “appalled” by the quantity of drinking during freshers’ week at his university.

There are all sorts of excellent reasons for agreeing with all of this and seeking to change the rationale of freshers’ week from being a training course in excessive drinking to one which is primarily focused on easing the transition to university life and starting the induction and orientation process to help students to get the most out of their higher education. However, it is genuinely difficult to see how this can be driven by government (other than in a general way by imposing substantial rises in duty on alcohol). But, things do have to change and it is, I think, good that government is at least aware of the issue and supportive of change.