Higher Learning Commission

Sophomore Year Experience: Developing Strategies for Student Success in the Second Year of College at St. Ambrose University

St. Ambrose University

Overview of the Quality Initiative

The Sophomore Year Experience initiative will systematically identify and develop a plan to address the unique issues St. Ambrose sophomores face during a key transition point in their undergraduate career. For the purposes of this initiative, the term “sophomore” is defined as students in their second year at the same campus, excluding transfer students (National Resource Center for the First Year Experience and Students in Transition). These students may not have attained official standing based on accumulated credits.

The term “Sophomore Slump” has been used to describe the phenomena observed among second-year students since the 1950s (Freedman, 1956), but current research on this population suggests that their issues are more nuanced than the term captures (Gump, 2007). Students who have a clear sense of who they are and what they want to achieve in college and beyond are more likely to be engaged academically and to also engage in other educationally purposeful activities including service and collaborative learning (Kuh, 2008). Consequently, common challenges in the second year of college often include academic disengagement, dissatisfaction with the college experience, major and career indecision, insufficient engagement with faculty, and developmental confusion (Kennedy & Upcraft, 2010). Informed by the research on good practices for supporting sophomores, this Quality Initiative will identify the challenges that sophomores face at St. Ambrose University through a systematic examination of their social, academic, and personal experiences up to and through their second year of college. Using these data, a Sophomore Year Advisory Board, comprised of faculty, staff, and students, will develop a strategic plan for addressing the issues that impact St. Ambrose University students in their sophomore year.

Promoting student success, including increased retention and persistence rates, is part of St. Ambrose University’s Strategic Plan. This initiative will build on the First Year Experience program and will systematically examine the unique issues that St. Ambrose University sophomores experience in order to develop a long-term, evidence-based plan to increase student success and positively impact their retention and persistence rates. Whereas the First Year Experience program focuses on delivering key messages about institutional culture, learning opportunities, and resources for success, the sophomore initiative will focus on developing academic, personal, and social purpose with an emphasis on faculty-student interactions. Our work during the Quality Initiative period will culminate in presenting a long-term strategy for the sophomore year to St. Ambrose leadership, Strategic Planning Committee, and the Higher Learning Commission. This initiative is one part of St. Ambrose University’s ongoing work to engage in systematic inquiry of the issues and strategies related to student success as measured by retention and persistence rates.

Relevance and Significance

The Sophomore Year experience is relevant to St. Ambrose University because it represents the next step in the University’s strategic initiative to promote and support student success. St. Ambrose invested in the First Year Experience department with new staffing and initiatives; this included gathering data on first-year student experiences through MAP-Works™ surveys and the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), and enhancing existing academic programs such as Learning Communities and the freshman seminar. Our freshman retention rate has increased from 78.96% in 2010 to 80.21% for the Fall 2012 cohort. St. Ambrose sees, however, an additional 9.96% attrition, on average, from the second to third year of college.

This is an area of concern given the investment in first-year student retention. Investigating the primary reasons behind sophomore to junior attrition is necessary to determine appropriate interventions to increase retention rates and ultimately persistence to graduation. This initiative also has the potential to examine current human, fiscal, and space resources to determine the most appropriate use and benefit to students.

Intended Impact

The intended impact of this initiative will be to support students in achieving their academic goals and persisting to graduation. Our mission is to support students in their intellectual, spiritual, ethical, social, artistic, and physical development to enrich their own lives and the lives of others. Our vision is to become a leading Midwestern university, as evidenced by our retention and persistence rates when positioned among benchmark institutions and national rankings.

The sophomore year initiative will focus on students’ abilities to select majors, to investigate possible careers and/or post-baccalaureate education, attain greater academic engagement, and develop educational purpose. Students who are able to define their purpose and goals for their undergraduate education are more likely to be engaged academically and also to engage in other educationally purposeful activities that support deeper learning (Kuh, 2008). These activities will contribute to the overall quality of education that our sophomores experience in their second year and beyond.

Purposes and Goals

This Quality Initiative is a natural extension of the existing First Year Experience program at St. Ambrose University and will strive to promote and enhance student success in the second year of college. The purpose of the initiative is to develop a strategic plan for addressing the issues that impact St. Ambrose University students in their sophomore year. The initiative will address current retention and persistence rates and devise strategies to improve both measures of student success. The following table includes St. Ambrose University’s average attrition rates over the past five years and corresponding cohort graduation rates. It is the nearly 10% of additional attrition that occurs during the sophomore year that is of concern. This number appears to vary greatly from year-to-year, indicating a lack of institutional understanding and systematic response. The graduation rates noted are influenced by 4-year and 6-year rates. While they are consistent with many other private colleges and universities in the state, there is room for growth as St. Ambrose strives towards its vision of becoming a leading mid-western institution.

Attrition and Persistence 07FAR 08FAR 09FAR 10FAR 11FAR 12FAR Avg
Attrit after 1st Term 5.70% 5.07% 6.42% 8.69% 10.16% 8.09% 6.43%
Attrit after 1st Year 22.40% 25.52% 17.88% 21.04% 21.42% 19.79% 19.11%
Attrit after 2nd Year 6.29% 9.09% 11.11% 9.07% 7.62%   9.96%
Attrit after 3rd Year 5.50% 3.85% 2.78% 4.25%     4.16%
Attrit after 4th Year 4.72% 4.55% 5.03%       4.49%
Cohort Attrition Rate* 38.90% 43.01% 36.81% 34.36% 29.04% 19.79%  
Cohort Graduation Rate** 61.10% 56.99% 51.14%        
Cohort Graduation Rate*** 66.03% 58.96% 53.43%        

*Cohort attrition percentage is the sum of all rows above except for % after 1st term which is already included in % after 1st year.
**Cohort graduation rate as of 9/18/2013.
***Cohort graduation rate as of 9/18/2013 excluding students who transferred.

 

To fulfill this purpose, we have established the following goals for the initiative:

  1. Collect and analyze data on sophomore students’ academic, personal, and social transition to the second year of college. To do so, we will:
    1. Further implement survey tools (e.g., MAP-Works, NSSE) to facilitate gathering data on second year students;
    2. Assess the attitudes towards, and receptivity to, resources through systematic inquiry focused on faculty engagement, careers and majors, financial aid, and involvement in the co-curriculum.
  2. Identify differences in sub-populations within the second year class to support their purposeful exploration and development of purpose through strategies unique to their needs. This may include, but is not limited to: (1) Students who are not admitted to their program of choice (e.g., pre-professional program students—PA/OT/PT/Nursing/Education); (2) Students from racial and ethnic minority groups; (3) Athletes who do not continue with athletics beyond the first year; (4) Students without a declared major; and (5) Commuter students
  3. Form a Sophomore Year Advisory Board, comprised of faculty, staff, and students, that will:
    1. Review the collected data on sophomore student transitions, engagement, and involvement;
    2. Develop an agenda for professional development, program enhancement, and collaborative decision-making for programs and initiatives related to second-year student success;
    3. Provide ongoing support to sustain Sophomore Year initiatives and awareness.
  4. Develop the professional competencies of faculty and staff related to the second year experience through the Sophomore Year Advisory Board, travel to conferences (e.g., Students in Transition Conference), and through regular meetings with faculty, staff, and administration at the university, college, and departmental level.
  5. Review second year advising practices to explore the extent to which faculty advisors use the advising relationship to focus on major and career discernment, personal development, and engagement in the life of the university.
  6. Develop a focused three-year plan of recommendations for sophomore year programming that will be presented to the university Strategic Planning Committee.

Evaluation of Progress and Accomplishments

Data-informed decision making will play a critical role in the success of this initiative. Collecting good data on second year students is an essential first step (Goals 1 and 2), but data-informed decision making also requires good decisions (Hess, 2008/2009). The Sophomore Year Advisory Board (Goal 3) will play an instrumental role in evaluating the progress of the initiative. This board will be chaired by two members of the St. Ambrose HLC Steering Committee and will be formed with the guidance of this committee. The specific groups and individuals identified for membership on this board are listed in the next section. This board will submit annual reviews of the goals to the St. Ambrose HLC Steering Committee and the Cabinet, with monthly updates occurring at scheduled steering committee meetings.

The charge of the Sophomore Year Advisory Board will be to use this data to identify struggling and successful students, but to more importantly diagnose problems and make adjustments in practice. The data will allow for more frequent analysis of the second year experience, but developing the professional competencies of faculty and staff related to the second year experience (Goal 4) will be essential to program enhancement and the success of second year initiatives. We anticipate that advising is crucial to student success in the second year of college (Goal 5) and will also be crucial to the success of this Quality Initiative Project.

As stated above, the ultimate purpose of this initiative is to develop a focused three-year plan of recommendations for sophomore year programming (Goal 6) and benchmarks (retention and persistence) by which to measure the success of such programming. This plan will be presented to the St. Ambrose HLC Steering Committee and the Cabinet. If the initiative is successful, as determined by these groups, the recommendations of this initiative will be presented to the University Strategic Planning Committee.

Internal and External Support

The President’s Cabinet supports and has approved the Sophomore Year Initiative as St. Ambrose University’s Quality Initiative. This support includes financial (three-year budget), technical (internal support for data collection and management related to Sophomore Year projects, and human resources (the Second Year Advisory Board) to carry out the project goals. St. Ambrose University’s HLC Steering Committee also supports this Quality Initiative.

Groups and Individuals Involved in Implementation

Goal Three includes the formation of a Sophomore Year Advisory Board to review relevant data on the sophomore class and develop an agenda for developing programs and initiatives related to sophomore year success. The following table outlines the areas that will be represented on this board and the rationale for their inclusion.

Department Rationale Representation
Career Services Career and major discernment issues. Career Counselor
Academic Advising Second year advising/career and major discernment Member of Academic Advising staff
College of Business/Gen Ed Academic advising and faculty-student interactions within the college. Current faculty member with target at undergraduate level
College of Arts and Sciences/Honors Academic advising and faculty-student interactions within the college Current faculty member with target in science or other high-demand programs
College of Health and Human Services Academic advising and faculty-student interactions within the college Current faculty member well-versed in pre-professional (curriculum-tight) programs
Diversity Addressing retention issues for historically underrepresented students in the second year Faculty representative from campus Diversity Work Group
Athletics Critical masses of student-athletes enroll at St. Ambrose University (5-year average of 46%) and participate in 23 sports Coach or athletic administrator
Residence Life Faculty engagement in residence life/MAP-Works implementation; St. Ambrose University has a 2-year residency requirement Sophomore Hall Director with special interest in second-year students
Assessment Consultation for data collection and analysis Assessment Research Analyst
General Education Committee Liberal arts foundation and integrative learning as a pathway to major and career discernment and finding purpose in the second year Faculty member designated by Director of General Education
University Life Committee Faculty Governance Committee with an emphasis on faculty-student interactions as a means of student engagement

Faculty member

Sophomore year student(s) Student representation and input for program design and relevance Student leadership and historically underrepresented populations
First Year Experience Using success of FYE model and research to expand into SYE model. Member of St. Ambrose HLC steering committee and co-chair of the QI project.   Director
St. Ambrose HLC Steering Committee Member of St. Ambrose HLC steering committee and co-chair of the QI project. Former faculty co-chair of Center for Integrated Learning Environment (CILE) – integration and engagement as significant pieces of this work. Faculty member

Committed Resources

St. Ambrose University has formed a committee of faculty, staff, and administrators to participate in the HLC accreditation reaffirmation process, two members of which will co-chair the Quality Initiative. Additional human resources will include members of the Sophomore Year Advisory Board, designated Information Technology Staff for database design and support, and other administrative support for committee functions (meetings, for example). The President’s Cabinet has also allocated financial resources for the development of a three-year budget outlined below.

Three-Year Budget

Year One: Gather data (MAP-Works, NSSE in Spring 2015), attend the Students in Transition Conference to learn more about good practice relevant to the sophomore year, form an advisory board of faculty, staff, and students (modeled after the First Year Experience Advisory Board), and collect evidence to contribute to our understanding of the attitudes and experiences of second year students.

MAP-Works Sophomore Cohort 14-15:
475x6 participants
  $3,000.00
Campus Training for Direct-Connects/Referrals   $500.00
Marketing for MAP-Works Sophomores 14-15   $2,000.00
MAP-Works Summer Workshop June 2014:
(6-member team)
  $7,100.00
Includes:    
Registration $525x5 + 1 complimentary $2,700.00  
Travel (van rental/gas)  $ 600.00  
Per Diem $133x6=  $ 800.00  
Hotel 3 nights x6 @ $150= $3,000.00  
Fall 2014 National Conference on Students In Transition   $9,000.00
Includes:    
Registration x6 @ $495   $3,000.00  
Travel estimated 6 flights @ $350 $2,200.00  
Per Diem 6x$152 $1,000.00  
Hotel 6x$450 $2,800.00  
General office supplies   $400.00
Year 1 Estimate Total $22,000.00

Year Two: Pilot programs developed as a result of analyzing the data from year one, solicit feedback on proposed strategies from key constituents.

MAP-Works Sophomore Cohort 14-15:
475x6 participants
  $3,000.00
Campus Training for Direct-Connects/Referrals   $500.00
Marketing for MAP-Works Sophomores 14-15   $1,200.00
MAP-Works Summer Workshop June 2015: (2-member team)   $3,000.00
Includes:    
Registration $525x2 $1,100.00  
Travel (rental/gas) $600.00  
Per Diem $133x2= $300.00  
Hotel 3 nights x2 @ $150= $1,000.00  
Sophomore Programming:
Selected sub-populations                      
  $ 1,000.00

Sophomore programming

Includes/possibilities: Learning communities, faculty in residence, space reconfiguration /repurpose, career advising, experiential learning/internships, sophomore seminar, advisor training, alumni development/traditions, welcome BACK week, etc.

  $15,900.00
General office supplies   $400.00
Year 2 Estimate Total $25,000.00

 

Year Three: Report to HLC our focused plan for the next three years, report to the university Strategic Planning Committee our recommendations for sophomore year programming to be included in the next Strategic Plan.

MAP-Works Sophomore Cohort 14-15:
475x6 participants
  $3,000.00
Campus Training for Direct-Connects/Referrals   $500.00
Marketing for MAP-Works Sophomores 14-15   $1,200.00
MAP-Works Summer Workshop June 2016:
(2-member team)
  $3,000.00
Includes:    
Registration $525x2 $1,100.00  
Travel (rental/gas) $600.00  
Per Diem $133x2= $300.00  
Hotel 3 nights x2 @ $150 $1,000.00  
Sophomore Programming:
Selected sub-populations                      
  $1,000.00

Sophomore programming

Includes/possibilities: Learning communities, faculty in residence, space reconfiguration /repurpose, career advising, experiential learning/internships, sophomore seminar, advisor training, alumni development/traditions, welcome BACK week, etc.

  $20,900.00
General office supplies   $400.00
Year 3 Estimate Total $30,000.00*

*The $30,000 budget for the QI will be rolled into a permanent budgeting line for Second Year programming to implement and sustain the initiatives developed.

Primary Activities and Implementation Timeline

Year One: Gather data (MAP-Works & NSSE in Spring 2015), attend the Students in Transition Conference to learn more about good practice relevant to the sophomore year, form an advisory board of faculty, staff, and students (modeled after the First Year Experience Advisory Board), and collect evidence to contribute to our understanding of the attitudes and experiences of second year students. Analyze findings from evidence collection. Determine key areas of focus informed by the evidence.

Year Two: Develop and pilot programs/initiatives as a result of analyzing the data from year one, solicit feedback on proposed strategies from key constituents.

Year Three: Report to HLC a focused plan for the next three years including the expansion of successfully piloted programs. Report to the University Strategic Planning Committee our recommendations for sophomore year programming to be included in the next Strategic Plan.

References

Freedman, M. B. (1956). The passage through college. Journal of Social Issues, 12, 13- 27.

Gump, S.E. (2007). Classroom research in a general education course: Exploring implications through an investigation of the sophomore slump. Journal of General Education. 56, 105-125.

Hess, F. M. (2008/2009). The new stupid.Educational Leadership, 66(4), 6-17.

Kennedy, K. & Upcraft, M.L. (2010). Keys to student success: A look at the literature. In M.S. Hunter & J.N. Gardner

(eds). Helping Sophomores Succeed: Understanding and Improving the Second Year Experience. San Fransisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kuh, G.D. (2008). High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities. 
 

Institution Contact

Sherri Erkel, Director of First Year Experience

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NOTE: The papers included in this collection offer the viewpoints of their authors. HLC highly recommends them for study and for the advice they contain, but none represent official HLC directions, rules or policies.


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