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FORMATIVE EVALUATION OF AN INNOVATIVE FIRST-YEAR EXPERIENCE PROGRAM(USE AS GUIDE ONLY)
FORMATIVE EVALUATION OF
AN INNOVATIVE FIRST-YEAR EXPERIENCE PROGRAM
College enrollments are increasing, yet graduation rates for first-time college freshmen continue
to decline. This decline presents a depressing outlook as our college graduates fall behind those
in other parts of the world. The United States has a growing history of emphasizing standardized
test scores to ensure the rigor of elementary and secondary education. Thus, neither a lack of
academic preparation nor limited academic ability seem the principle causes of college students’
failure to persist to degree completion. Rather, students’ frustration with a lack of institutional fit
is often the primary factor leading to a lack of academic persistence. The freshmen year of
college is especially important in creating a student institutional fit, and thus improving student
retention. As a result, the overwhelming majority of U.S. colleges now offer some type of first-
year experience (FYE) program designed to help students transition from high school to college.
Most college FYE programs involve a freshmen seminar that is an extension of traditional
orientation, with efforts primarily directed toward high-risk candidates. Western Illinois
University, however, began a unique FYE program in Fall 2005 that encompasses the entire
freshman class during both the first and second semesters. Rather than the common orientation
seminar approach, the Western model incorporates a broad range of entry level and general
education courses, with faculty encouraged to include concepts of traditional FYE programs.
Assessment of this unique FYE program during its inaugural offering was based on self-reported
student and faculty surveys, combined with national student engagement survey results and
institutional retention records. The results demonstrate that this unique FYE approach did
positively contribute to the satisfaction of institutional fit felt by new freshmen, thus addressing
the primary factor cited as leading to a lack of student persistence. However, freshman-to-
sophomore year retention rates were not improved, leaving the net effect on graduation rate in
question and thus requiring ongoing study of this freshmen cohort. Potential areas for FYE
programming improvement are also suggested in this formative assessment of the inaugural FYE
effort at Western Illinois University.
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