Last week we jetted off to San Antonio, Texas for the Annual Conference on the First-Year Experience. Aside from collecting Mardi Gras beads on the Riverwalk and filling up on Tex-Mex, we enjoyed meeting the other conference attendees and learning how they approach the first-year experience.
We heard from many colleges and universities about their best practices for supporting students and families throughout the first-year transition. These are our major takeaways.
1. Foster a sense of inclusion and belonging
“If you provide students an excellent beginning, retention will follow,” we heard from Betsy Barefoot in an FYE workshop.
One goal of first-year orientation is to help students identify with their new college or university. On-campus activities, FYE curriculum, and relationships with new friends, classmates and professors help students feel connected. So does encouragement from home. When families are informed and engaged, and parents can talk to their child about exciting opportunities on campus, it bridges the gap between a student’s old home and new home.
In our 2017 parent satisfaction survey, parents wrote that receiving regular newsletters allows them to remind their busy college student about upcoming opportunities on campus. It also makes them feel like an extended member of the school’s family, even from afar. For many, this level of engagement confirms that they sent their child to the right place!
2. Start the dialogue before orientation
The transition from high school to college begins even before a student steps foot on campus. In the months before orientation, students begin to build healthy habits, get their finances in order, and develop certain self-reflective and critical thinking skills that they’ll need in college. At the FYE Conference, we heard how many institutions are bridging communication between their admissions, enrollment and first-year experience offices. These schools recognize the importance of preparing students and families for college as early as possible.
Many CampusESP customers use our platform to reach parents as early as the admissions cycle. Our schools send parents critical deadlines related to the college application, FAFSA, and scholarship opportunities to help students get their application in on time. Once a student enrolls, our schools can keep their families in the loop with important dates and opportunities throughout first-year orientation and the next four years.
3. It takes a village
Colleges and universities are beginning to recognize family support as a critical factor in first-year student success. That’s why so many schools have implemented a separate family orientation in conjunction with student orientation. The idea is that giving families an opportunity to learn about academics, extracurriculars and resources on campus will create shared expectations about college life and equip family members to handle the transition at home.
We work with colleges and universities to keep their parents appropriately engaged. Our data consistently shows the highest levels engagement from first-year families (especially minority families!). First-year family activity peaks over the summer, as parents are looking for more information about move-in, class registration and paying that first bill. We know that parents want to be involved in their child’s college experience. We just focus their involvement on what matters the most: Student success.