Keeping Sophomores in College a Challenge
Wednesday, December 01, 2010
Universities welcome freshmen with mentors, extensive campus orientation and activities galore. The same institutions celebrate their graduating seniors and assist their transitions into jobs.
But what's done for returning sophomores – the class demographic most at risk nationwide for not staying in school and completing their degrees? “We toss them the keys to the dorm room and say, ‘Welcome back,' ” said David McCullough, chair of Butler University's sophomore retention initiative.
Faced with more advanced coursework, second-guessing their major or career plans, and possible failures to make friends, “sophomores tend to get lost,” McCullough said. On average, only 76.6 percent of U.S. college freshmen in four-year institutions continue into their second year at the same school. (Butler's freshmen-to-sophomore retention rate for the 2009-2010 academic year was a very respectable 88 percent.) Nationwide, approximately 57 percent of first-time students attending a 4-year institution full time complete a bachelor's degree or its equivalent at that institution in 6 years or less.
Butler in Indianapolis is one of about 70 colleges and universities currently offering programs aimed at improving sophomore retention. McCullough said faculty and staff started the “Y2BU - Year 2 at Butler U” initiative voluntarily in 2007 by asking sophomores “what they perceived they needed.”
Sophomores told the committee, “ ‘We need to socialize better. We need some form of group identity [to combat isolation],” he said. The students also wanted guidance in career searches, resume writing and arranging study abroad.
The Y2BU committee also reviewed a survey undertaken in the 1990s by Butler's College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences concerning student retention within the college. “They discovered that if a student just does what they're supposed to do — study and go to class — but didn't involve themselves in any campus activities, about halfway through their sophomore year, the pharmacy program would lose those students. Involvement in any single activity — and it didn't matter what activity: sports, music, clubs — improved their chance to get to graduation as much as five times.”
Enjoyable activities outside classes “ground” students to a university. “That's where you find your friends,” McCullough said. “You make those connections. You feel like you've got some ownership in your own career and education. That lets you do your studying better and encourages you to take the steps toward graduation.”
Y2BU programming began with simple things: T-shirts and “back-to-school” picnics for sophomores. Last October, Butler offered its first Sophomore Conference on Real Experiences (SCORE) on campus. The previous year's sophomores suggested conference breakout topics covering internships, foreign study, turning life passions into a career, even personal finances and car maintenance.
The keynote speaker for SCORE was Erin Slater, the 32-year-old CEO of College Mentors for Kids and winner of a Martha Stewart “Dreamers Into Doers” award. She proposed 10 common sense steps for Year 2 success, such as writing down goals.
Sophomore year is an ideal time to set goals, McCullough said, “because you're transitioning out of core courses and into courses in your major. In her research, Slater found that that people who write down goals have higher income levels, higher job and personal satisfaction, and more personal leisure time than folks who don't.”
David McCullough is director of university bands and spirit programs for Butler University. A member of Butler's Jordan College of Fine Arts since 1990, he teaches courses in band arranging and marching band techniques and graduate music education courses. McCullough previously taught at the University of Washington, Syracuse University and West Virginia University. He frequently serves as a musical adjudicator, clinician, consultant and guest conductor.
To schedule an interview with David McCullough, contact Mary Ellen Stephenson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-940-6944.
To find other Butler University experts, visit http://www.butler.edu/experts/.
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