At the University of Central Arkansas, multiple resources exist to ensure the success of first-year students.
The Office of Student Success, for example, hosts regular academic success workshops, supplemental instruction, tutoring, peer coaching and more.
Julia Winden Fey, director of the Office of Student Success, said that first-year students often face higher academic expectations than they’re accustomed to while also entering adulthood. She said the office aims to empower students to build self-efficacy and become better learners.
“The numbers will show that we lose 30% of our freshmen in one year. So obviously, we want it to impact that loss and decrease it right away,” she said.
Senior Jacob Christie, a religious studies and psychology major who has worked in the office since 2015, said the office equips students with the tools they need to improve their academic performance.
“I really think that it’s important to help them to understand how to study properly, what proper study skills are out there, how to better take notes [and] how to best manage your time,” he said. “These are really important things that I think a lot of students might not have picked up in high school or might have not been properly prepared for for college.”
For success in transitioning to college living, UCA’s Learning Communities provide settings where students live and learn in the same environment. Students housed in residential colleges take courses in their learning community and participate in programming that both expands on content taught in their classes and strengthens their study skills.
UCA’s Learning Communities include five residential colleges and one commuter college: EDGE Residential College in Hughes Hall (EDGE@Hughes), The Stars Residential College in Short/Denney Hall (The Stars@Short/Denney), STEM Residential College in Arkansas Hall (STEM@Arkansas), HPaW Residential College in Baridon Hall (HPaW@Baridon), Business Residential College in Bear Hall (Biz@Bear) and Minton Commuter College in Old Main (MCC@Old Main). UCA is the first and only public institution in the state with a residential college system.
“Our data show that students who start off in a residential college have a 12% higher retention rate,” said Jayme Millsap Stone, director of Learning Communities. “They just stay, and they graduate at a higher rate as well, and it’s because the first year is their foundational year. What we’ve seen in the past is even if their first year is tougher than they thought, it gives them enough of a firm foundation to go on to their sophomore and other years.”
For first-year students who are in need of remediation or support in the shift to college, the Department of Student Transitions, formerly known as University College, offers courses that strengthen students’ academic skills and personal development. Its 12 faculty members teach math, literacy, writing and a Journeys to Success course that focuses on practicing time management and study strategies.
“If you were not a great student in the past, it doesn’t matter. We’re going to walk you through how to be a great student now and in the future,” said Amy Baldwin, director of the Department of Student Transitions. “We don’t want them to feel like they’re trapped in whatever labels that they had before they got here.”
Tyré Tillman, a junior nursing student, enrolled in the Journeys to Success course his first semester.
“It kind of had a big impact on my success, with being in that class and having [Baldwin] as a professor,” he said. “She’s basically the backbone of my success at UCA because that was the first class I’ve ever taken, my first time ever learning about the campus resources—it’s basically what made me into the student that I am today.”
The course introduced him to the Office of Student Success, which led him to a peer coach, the writing lab and tutoring. It also led him to become a peer coach in the Office of Student Success, a role he’s had for two years.
“UCA is on your side, and UCA wants you to succeed,” he said. “Whether that’s being a first-year student resident, whether that’s being first-generation, whether that’s being a minority or whether that’s just being someone that is nervous about school as a whole, I would just like to say that UCA is on your side, especially with being a first-year student.”
Stone said her department can’t fulfill its mission without working with other resources on campus.
“You literally have every corner of campus working to support the first-year students and trying to build that safety net so they can’t fall through,” Stone said. “No group can do it by themselves. I think UCA has one of the best examples; we’re really a national role model on how to do that.”