Christine G.S. Leichliter, The College of New Jersey
Kathy J. McCleaf, Mary Baldwin College
Research suggests that the first year of post-secondary education is the most precarious Yokomoto, Rizkalla, O'Loughlin, El-Sharkawy, and Lamm (1999) noted that Tinto, in his model of student attrition, asserts that, “the level of student integration into the college environment affects their ability to persist in the pursuit of a degree” (p.99). Hewett and Seymour (as cited in Yokomoto, et. al.) agree that persistent students are also most successful in developing and utilizing support networks that begin to take the place of, or become extensions of, students’ families.period in students’ progress toward graduation. Therefore it is incumbent that the institution articulate the ethos of the institutional culture and find ways to encourage students to adopt and embrace that culture. Academic advisors can be instrumental in setting the stage for new student success.
Significant to the impact of retention is the effort focused on the transition of the family unit as residential students enter the first year of college. An old Native American adage popularized by journalist Hodding Carter (2006) notes that the most important gifts parents can impart to their offspring are roots and wings: the roots to form the foundations for making good choices and decisions and the wings to take on the challenges faced when they leave the home. Advisors can help affirm the family transition for both students and their families.
Often the key to a student’s success is found in appropriate family support and trust. It is important that students and parents remember that it will take a bit of time away from each other in order to adjust. Pre-arranging times to communicate via email, instant messages, or telephone can be helpful in allaying homesickness. Likewise “care packages” that include letters with news clips from the home community and artwork or letters from younger siblings can remind students that their place in the home is still there and important. Planning family visits to campus after a month or student visits home to share in special occasions are other strategies that can help mitigate some of the difficulties caused by separation.
Mullendore and Hatch (2000) noted several changes that occur as the shift in responsibilities reverses and the dependent becomes independent. Acknowledging that roles are changing is important as families cope without the help they once received from students with childcare, meal preparation, and daily homecare roles. In addition, students are adjusting to new roles, value testing, and sharing in communities that may be so foreign to their experiences that the articulation of how things work may be too difficult to relay to those at home. When a recent researcher went undercover as a freshman, she likened her “entrance into college life… [to] prior fieldwork in a remote village” (Nathan, 2005, p. 10).
Although most students experience some adjustment difficulties as they enter college, students who are the first in their families to participate in higher education seem to encounter a unique set of problems. In his research, Tinto (as noted by Olenchak and Hebert, 2002) observed that reasons students leave college include such factors as “unclear intentions about higher education, lack of commitment, adjustment problems, feelings of isolation, family obligations, and financial problems” (p. 195).
Compounding their difficulties, first-generation students can find themselves the recipients of discrimination, both in the social and in the academic arenas. These students are less likely to persist in higher education and complete their degrees (Ting, 2003). If colleges and universities are to develop services that successfully address student issues, then student needs must shape those services. Every student has a story—one that defines his/her identity and influences that student’s ability to successfully adapt to and survive in a new culture.
Student engagement and satisfaction is an important factor in assessing institutional effectiveness; in fact, research shows that student engagement is linked to a variety of desirable college outcomes (Kuh, Kinzie, Schuh, & Whitt, 2005). One of these desirable outcomes is the student’s ability to integrate into the campus community while developing those skills and behaviors that encourage individual identity and integrity.
Successful transitioning occurs when young people move towards integrating their identity to include all parts of their lives. Many campuses define cultural diversity to include ethnic minorities only and examine identity development only as a partial construct of student development. “Teachers and advisors should be aware of and sensitive to the stages of cultural development that all of their students – including mainstream students, students of color, and other marginalized groups of students – may be experiencing and facilitate their identity development” (Banks, 2004, p. 304).
Tatum (1997) details resource and support networks for students of color in her works. Others focus research on areas including students with disabilities, minority religions, and sexual minority students (Lowery, 2004; McCarn & Fassinger, 1996; Roer-Strier, 2002). Minority students are arriving in larger numbers and are demanding to be served and supported in their educational efforts. The shift in campus demographics shows that the numbers of minority status students will increase so that they will become the majority on campus within the next decade (Bruch, et al., 2004).
Student success and educational effectiveness are top priorities, especially if we expect to see successful student transitions on today’s campuses. Academic advisors who help students integrate life management skills and find solid support networks will assist these students in creating a foundation for coping with collegiate level academic stress. Advisors who are aware of the needs of first year students can make the difference as students learn to navigate the halls of academia.
School of the Arts and Communication
The College of New Jersey
Associate Professor of Health and Studies of Gender and Sexuality
Department of Sociology and Social Work
Mary Baldwin College
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Cite this article using APA style as: Leichliter, C & McCleaf, K. (2008, June). Preparing to advise first year students. Academic Advising Today, 31(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]