August 2010 newsletter
A new analysis of the latest numbers shows that more than 26,000 students entered Minnesota colleges as full-time students in 2003; 40% of them graduated in four years or less and 60% graduated within six years. Minnesota Private College Council (MPCC) member institutions had the highest four-year graduation rate at 64%. This continues a longstanding trend.
In terms of raw numbers of students entering and exiting in four years, the efficiency of MPCC institutions is pronounced. While Council members enrolled half as many first-year students than the public institutions, four years later the number we graduated was larger. See the Education Pipeline chart below.
Timely graduation is an important indicator of effective institutional management. Higher graduation rates are indication of appropriately targeted student recruitment, effective campus communication, strong advising and accessible student support services. The academic preparation of student, colleges' admissions selectivity and student demographics also influence graduation rates.
For students, graduating in four years can minimize costs associated with additional tuition and any borrowing-related expenses. It also starts them earning income earlier than their later-graduating peers.
For more information and data on Minnesota's college graduation rates see the Research Foundation's graduation rate report.
The first weeks of college can be overwhelming but exhilarating for first-year college students, from getting along with a roommate for the first time to navigating campus and managing time. To curb the natural anxiety first-year students feel, campuses have always held a variety of orientation events to acclimate students to their new surroundings — and their new life.
In recent years though, colleges have realized that traditional orientations, held over a few days with optional events and little or no parent involvement, aren't enough for today's incoming students. Minnesota private colleges, too, have taken notice; many have recently beefed up their orientations, adding a spring or summer component, making them mandatory and involving parents in the process. The result? Orientation has expanded and evolved.
"Over the ten years that I've been involved in college orientation, it's morphed into a very comprehensive program for parents and students," said Marc Skjervem, director of orientation and first-year programs at Hamline University. "It's a one-stop-shop for students' transition to college."
And orientation is no longer just a time for campus rules and logistics to be discussed — meeting friends early on is seen as not only desirable by admission staff, but necessary. Starting school in the fall is easier for students when they recognize a few faces from orientation the previous spring or summer, said Pam Lahti, admissions counselor and orientation coordinator at The College of St. Scholastica. "This makes them feel a little more comfortable, and they're happy that they are able to start feeling at home the first week," she said.
In turn, having access to all of the basic information they need before they move in allows them to relax and "focus more on the social aspects of school" when fall comes, Lahti said.
Talking about their generation
It's likely the biggest change in college orientation in the past five to ten years has been the increased inclusion of parents (and, at some schools, families) in the process.
Recent changes in orientation have been fueled by a change in how parents view their role and their relationship with their children, Lahti said. "I think a lot of kids have a pretty close relationship with their parents these days," she said. "Parents want to be involved (in their students' lives) and their kids want them to be involved, too."
Lahti said that in her three years in admissions, she sees parents who are quite involved in the college application and admission process. "They're doing a lot of the legwork and making phone calls for their students," she said.
Schools vary in how much content they have for parents and whether parental attendance at an orientation session is required. At The College of St. Scholastica, the May or June orientation includes some events for parents and students to attend together, while other parts are designed only for one or the other. Meetings with peer advisors and a skit about college pressures, for example, are just for students; while this is happening, parents are attending a general "what to expect" meeting with a question-and-answer period with a current student.
A different kind of summer school
Many Minnesota private colleges have two elements to their orientation process — a "welcome week," held the weekend before school starts (often over Labor Day) through the first days of school, and an earlier session, held between April and July, depending on the institution.
More recently, some institutions have chosen to make the spring or summer orientation a required overnight event; Hamline University and The College of St. Scholastica are two such schools.
This is the first year that Hamline has involved students spending the night. "Piper Preview," as the event is known, is a chance for students to spend the night during the summer in a Hamline residence hall (parents either stay at their respective homes or at an area hotel.) During the daytime events, parents find out what discussions they need to have with their student before schools starts and how they can prepare their child for fall, while students register for classes, attend information sessions and meet potential classmates and friends.
Another activity that Skjervem feels is helpful to have during the Piper Preview program is course registration, as students are able to register on site instead of at home, with faculty and professional advisors to answer questions as needed. "Before, students got really stressed out registering for classes on their own," he said. "It started the year off on a stressful note."
While Concordia University, St. Paul, does not have an overnight component to its New Student Orientation, students have "homework" between that event and Welcome Week in the fall — they are required to view online videos made by different Concordia University departments and complete an online quiz.
Fun with a Purpose
Of course, the fundamental purpose of orientation hasn't changed — it is still a time to give students information while helping them get a taste for their campus' culture and expectations. But more intensive orientations are more than just a way to make sure students get invited to parties or avoid getting lost on campus in the fall. Colleges also benefit from orientations, especially those that focus on student socialization. That's because the quality of orientation and, in turn, the social interactions that result are linked to student retention, Skjervem said, making it a win-win situation for both students and institutions.
He said that in 2009-2010, the year Hamline's three-day Piper Passages orientation program began, first-year student retention between fall and spring semesters was the highest it has ever been at 95.7%. This finding mirrors national evidence linking longer and more parent-inclusive orientations to higher retention and graduation rates.
These new twists on orientations also reflect today's students, who are accustomed to instantaneous access to a lot of information, Skjervem said. "Of course this is a generalization, but students in the millennial generation ask a lot of questions and have a lot of needs that we want to meet as college and university administrators."
"We want to give them resources, services, answers to their questions, and ease their concerns right away, so they don't have to search for them on their own," he said.
Tips for orientation and the first weeks of school, from orientation staff:
- Parents and students should communicate during the first weeks of school. Parents should ask what they're learning about the campus and about their responsibilities at college during welcome week.
- Students should participate fully in the welcome week, as these activities are designed to make transitioning to college easier; also, information is distributed that they are responsible for knowing and that will be important to their success.
- Pay attention to deadlines and dates coming up (in the spring and summer before school starts and through the fall) because they are important. Missing them only creates hassle later.
- During welcome week activities and orientations, meeting people is important. The more faces students recognize, the sooner they will feel acclimated to campus life and college.