Saturday, October 03, 2009

Large universities changing freshman experience

What an odd concept. It seems that large classes and unconnected peers makes for a hard time starting college.
Large universities changing freshman experience - Yahoo! News: "Overwhelmed freshmen in many places still sit anonymously in large lecture halls, surrounded by hundreds of peers whose names the professor couldn't possibly remember. Dorm life isn't much better, with total-stranger roommates sharing little other than a desire to survive those first rocky semesters.
It sounds like the kind of thing that fraternities and sororities are designed to overcome. The schools are trying to move into this space too.
But such cattle-call approaches to higher education are increasingly out of fashion. At the University of Missouri and many other schools, from large public universities to selective liberal arts colleges, first-year students increasingly live and learn in small groups with those who share similar interests[...]"
Yeah, it is such a good idea that the colleges themselves are making competition for the experience typically provided by Greeks.
Nearly one-third of Missouri's 5,620 first-year students participate in freshmen interest groups, or FIGs. They share rooms with each other, or entire sections of residential housing. They take four courses together, making the oversized auditoriums "psychologically smaller," as one university official says.

And they meet in small groups with a peer adviser who helps them navigate the school bureaucracy while offering tips on time management, and how to speak with professors.

"It's an immediate connection," said Matt Hibbard, a junior peer adviser and former interest group participant. "You build really strong relationships right off the bat."

These so-called living/learning communities, as well as first-year seminars that don't include a residential component, are not new. But as enrollment at many schools continues to increase, so does the popularity of such programs.

The first-year residential program at Missouri has grown from 21 interest groups in 1995 to 110 in the current school year, with nearly 1,900 participants. FIG participants have higher grade-point averages and graduation rates, school statistics show.
Doesn't "living/learning community" sound similar to the concept behind RLCs? It makes me wonder if there is a challenge/opportunity on the horizon for the entire Greek system. What would happen if the "FIGs" expanded to be a four-year experience? Could we compete? Is there room enough for two different ways of approaching the problem of helping new students to acclimate themselves? We shall see, I suppose.