In or Out?
An Essay on Freshmen Involvement Theory
We normally hear the saying that “Graduation in your high school is not the end of your journey, rather, it is a beginning of a new chapter in your life– the college life”. After high school graduation students are taking the opportunity to be enrolled in a college university where they can pursue their chosen career. Some students take entrance exams in different universities and aspire to belong in a highly respected, well- recognized school. Others on the other hand who do not have much money are contented to be enrolled even in a simple university. Others who cannot sustain their schooling opt to find a job. But the main focus of this paper is those who enrolled in college and had the opportunity to experience how it feels to become a freshman in college.
Do you still remember how you feel during your first day in your college life? Did you feel excited? Happy? Or nervous? The first day of school in college is really a mixture of emotions, isn’t it? Students normally feel excited because they are curious of what lies ahead of them in college life. They also feel happy because their first day in the university seems to be the “beginning” of their dreams in life. It is the starting point of their selected career. Some students also feel nervous because they are wondering who their instructors are and what type of instructors are they. Are they the type of instructors who are very strict and give many requirements? Or are they the ones who are approachable and friendly to students? Will they become really interested in their subjects? Will they learn in the class? Will they become accepted by their classmates? Yes, acceptance by other students is one of the problems encountered by freshmen. The sense of belongingness for some is really hard to achieve. As we all know each student in a certain university has different attitudes and background in life. They possess also different level of maturity. Their characteristics influenced by their parent’s upbringing affects their behavior during their first day in school. Their self confidence also varies. These factors can influence how they would perform in their first year of college. After enrollment students usually seek companionship and attention from other people in their new environment. They are expecting that someone would assert or assist them in the campus that they enrolled in at the first few days of school. It make them feel nervous to think that no one will care for them and nobody will pay attention to them and neglect them as if they are non-existent. This experience could become very disappointing for them.
The freshman years in college are a difficult stage for many students due to new tasks and standards and hope of other people that are sometimes can be devastating. Due to this factor high percentage of students do not pursue schooling during their second year in college (Bigger, 2006). Retention, notably the retention of freshmen to sophomore, is a significant gauge because it has an important effect on conceivably the most valuable standards to colleges and universities: graduation rates (Kelly, 2006). According to the Associated Press, only 54 percent from four-year college in the United States graduated in 1997, 57 percent of which are white, 44 percent are Hispanics and 39 percent are black (Press, 2005). The ACT news on the other hand published in 1998 that from a four-year college in the United States the drop-out rate for the first year to second year college is 26.7 percent while from a two-year college the drop-out rate is 44.6 percent (A. News, 1998). The BBC News reported in 2005 that the drop-out rate for first year in colleges in UK is 7.3 percent in the year 2001 but this figure increased to 7.8 percent in 2002 (B. NEWS, 2005). The continuously increasing number of freshmen who dropped out alarmed researchers and various institutions. A difference in race is one of the possible reasons for dropping out according to academic press. The students themselves and the high schools where they came from also hold responsibility for the dropping out issue. According to Wes Habley as cited in the ACT News in 1998 there are many reasons for the increase in drop-out in colleges in The United States. Increase in drop-out rate and lengthening time of graduation according to him can be attributed to part time job of students, family-related problems, competition between community activities and school activities, high cost of tuition, availability of high-paying jobs that do not require a degree, differences in students’ expectations for college, and lack of preparation of students from their high school (Chaves, 2003; A. News, 1998). For these very reasons, it is really important for freshmen to become involved at in their first year of college. The first six weeks are important to connecting in college because this could help the students to overcome “culture shocks” and it could also enlighten them about the things that they should expect in their college year. The first six weeks of classes is also the time for the students to be acquainted and develop a sense of involvement to their peers. It is also the time for them to adjust in their new schedules. Through daily attendance in the first six weeks of classes, students could enhance their self-confidence and develop a good relationship to their instructors.
Due to increasing drop-outs of freshmen, researchers attempted to explain the reasons why students quit schooling after their first year in college. They develop different theories to explain this phenomenon. The Involvement Theory by Alexander Astin states that involvement is the answer to student improvement and student contentment (Farlowe, 2006). As cited by Chaves according to Astin “involvement” is the quantity of “physical” and “physiological” energy exerted by students to the scholastic practice. He had found out that students perform well when they are participating in different activities in their schools (Bigger, 2006; Farlowe, 2006). He hypothesized that the participation of students happens within a range and he also theorized the direct proportionality of the quantity of learning and the energy spent by the students. He also advocated that the students could learn more if they will involve themselves in activities outside the classroom. . He also considered in his theory the location where the students live. He said that students who reside on campus became advantageous over those who travel from their house to the school. This is because students whose residence is in the campus have greater opportunity and time to participate in campus activities, take part in fraternity or sorority, became affiliated in student government and have ample time to intermingle with faculty members in their school. His theory is supported by Vincent Tinto who discovered that “residence hall living” notably help students to feel that they belong in the institution (Arboleda, Wang, Shelley, & Whalen, 2003). He also supports the context of student participation as sole “predictor” of increase in their knowledge. His study focused on community college setting and suggested to incorporate students to the continuing societal and intellectual existence of the school. He also stressed the hardships of non-resident students to attend school activities. He suggested that it would be of great help to conduct orientation for first year students, bulid learning resource centers, and community college learning communities – that can be significant for students’ academic achievement. This could solve the problem of uneasiness during the first days of college and may result to increase in students’ retention (Chaves, 2003).
According to Moore, Lovell, McGann, ; Wyrick as cited by Arboleda, et.al, . residence hall communities take part in making a place for students’ participation in “campus-related” and “off-campus” happenings during their undergraduate years. Due to the desire of each student to establish their own identity, being a part of programs in the community may affect their improvement as a person. Moreover, effects of the environment acquired in the “residence halls”, like companionships and “sense of community’, have a great power over students’ growth (Arboleda, Wang, Shelley, ; Whalen, 2003).
The theory of Moxley is about the concept of retention and how it can be achieved. As cited by Nora, according to Moxley, retention is truly achieved by guiding the student to become successful in life. Moxley advocates the higher education institution to be the one responsible for students’ success. He discussed in his book the different personality and attitudes of the students that should be considered and talked about different “programs” that can be done by institutions to increase retention rates of students in different campuses (Nora, 2004). According to the book review conducted by Nora, Moxley stressed the need for different communities to work together towards successful retention of all the students as well as those of the students who had finished their studies. The theory has good intention but cannot be applied to all universities or campuses because the suggestions by Moxley are quite “discrete”. Some of his suggestions are not applicable to both undergraduate and graduate students. Some of it cannot be implemented to schools in other country as they have different “educational settings’. The different “programs” suggested in the book of Mxsley, according to Nora are mostly based on different studies conducted and based on published research findings and, thus, the programs needs to be tested first and verify if the “theoretical” findings could lead to same result when it is applied practically. As for my self, the ideas discussed by Moxley could be of great help but in order to improve it I think a strategy to improve retention of undergraduate students must be separated from the graduate students and draw some more specific achievable programs for different campuses worldwide. I agree that coordination among different school institutions is a must to achieve retention of students.
The theory of Richard Light is about the active participation of both the students and the faculty to “make the most of college”. Light put stressed on the “social environment” that campuses offer for their students. This factor has been sadly ignored for many years especially on many big universities, and focus on it by faculties is strongly required. The type of surroundings that Light suggests is a secure, abundant, uniquely different, and offers a great number of opportunities to students (reviews, 2006).
His theory is like “getting-to-know” process. According to the book review of Gray, Light suggested for the faculty to interview his students’ one on one at the start of each year so that he will have a better understanding about the student’s attitude and, thus, be able to establish a connection between educational and personal interest and build good relationship between the faculty and the student. The fallback of this approach, however, is that it is not applicable to a large class size because a one-on-one talk to each student is time-consuming (Gray, 2002).
Other theorist like Gardner, Upcraft and Barefoot suggest participation of instructors in all stages of freshmen years because they think that first-year college instructors can easily persuade students. The term first-year experience was first used by Gardner. This term is applied to explain the guidelines, approaches, courses, and services intended to assist newcomer to become well adopted in higher education . The University of South Carolina in 1972 made a “seminar course” known as the University 101 that `lead the establishment of National Resource Center (Bigger, 2006). Barefoot on the other hand, summarized a number of objectives necessary for a captivating first-year transition program. The best way according to him is interactions between students themselves and interactions between students and faculty. Barefoot said that although the instructors who are engaged in freshmen life could somehow solve the problems in drop-out rate, still, the main reason for dropping out lies on the students themselves (Kelly, 2006). To be able to solve this problem, faculties should develop different ways to for a better freshman year experience that could encourage students to pursue their studies and be convinced to have a degree. As cited by Jessica Bigger Barefoot also suggested the organization of a program that helps students who enrolled in college with lack of proper training. Moreover she mentioned that institutions need to set specific objectives before constructing a program that will help both the students and the institution.
Upcraft (1995) mentioned assumption about student improvement accredited to Scholssberg, Lynch and Chickering. This theory focuses on students’ longing to know that they are important and are recognized. This concept explains that faculty must understand that students require assistance from their classmates, friends, instructors, and love ones to become victorious. This suggests a need for support groups to help freshmen to feel that they are involved and connected in a certain school (Success, 2007).
According to Tinto, as cited by Jessica Bigger, there are three phases experienced by freshmen during college: separation, transition and incorporation. Separation stage happens when students leave their own house and their love ones. In this stage they experience sadness and this became very distressing to some. When they overcome the first stage, they will shift to the transition stage when they miss their old environment and try hard to accept and become used to their new environment. They may recall the sense of belongingness in their old environment and then realized that they have to seek for acceptance in their new surroundings. After overcoming the transition stage, students are promoted to the next stage which is the incorporation stage. During this phase the students achieved the sense of belongingness that they were looking for. They feel accepted and became aware that they are now a true a member of the institution and a part of a new community (Bigger, 2006).
The freshmen involvement theory comprises of five stages. In the first stage students normally feel excited, nervous, worried, alone and with no other person to back up. In the next stage, students are informed that they are not the only ones that feel this way. During the third stage an event for the school is planned to make them feel involved on campus. In the fourth stage, after planning and conducting the event, the event is evaluated. In the fifth stage, after evaluating the event the students normally feel proud in the school. They feel that they had accomplished a big “project” and this in turn creates a feeling of belongingness to the university.
The freshmen involvement theory was applied in my class last year. This aims to let the students feel that they are connected to the school. I handled two classes and they took one fall semester and one spring semester. The schedule of their class is the same for fall and spring. My class was conducted every Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 3:00-3:50 pm. During our first few classes we discussed on ways how to get involved in school activities, we also discussed the adjustments that students do in order to become accustomed in their new life as freshman students. At the middle of the semester I told them to plan a project for the betterment of the university to make them feel involved in the university. One of my two classes preferred to conduct a clean-up drive for the school and the other class planned to conduct a discussion panel. They presented their chosen project at the end of the semester. The next semester which is the spring semester, I handled the same set of students and I conducted my lectures at same time during the fall class (3:00-3:50 pm). At this semester the project that they had presented during the fall class will be put into practice. At the middle of the semester, during class hours, I give them time to meet and talk about the plans for their project. They coordinated their plans as a group and consulted me once in a while regarding their plans. This way, good relationships between the students themselves and between me and my students was established. Some of the students who were shy on their first day of classes developed self confidence and learned to express themselves and became friendly. Although there are few students whom I seldom see because they are always absent in my class. One month before the semester ended the planned projects of my two classes were conducted. The clean-up drive was done every Friday for one month while the discussion panel was held every Wednesday at 3 pm. The discussion panel tackled the latest issue regarding politics, university issues and health. The project was evaluated during the last day of our class. Problems encountered like lack of cleaning materials in the clean-up drive and absence of the resource person in the discussion panel were discussed. Other than these problems, the project can be considered successful. It promoted camaraderie among the students and teach them to become responsible individuals. The welfare of the university was upheld, too. The course undertaken by the students was successful in its objective to create a sense of involvement for the students. After the activity each student became endowed in keeping the campus clean and had developed critical thinking through the panel discussion conducted. The panel discussion also opened issues inside the university that needs to be settled and resolved by the administration. Due to the success of the activity, the university decided to make the “project” a regular activity inside the campus. The clean-up drive inside the campus will be done once a week while the panel discussion will be conducted once a month. One of the current student affairs professionals was assigned to lead the said program. The program was included into a First Year Advising department. The Checking of attendance was constantly done to monitor students’ participation. The class project theory appears to become applicable to both small and large university. The success of the activity relies only on the planning and delegation of responsibility. Ample amount of resources and full cooperation of all the students in the campus determines the success of the said event.
Checking of attendance was constantly done during the course of the project to monitor students’ participation in the university. It was observed that students who are always absent in class and who did not participate in the activity are the ones who dropped- out and did not enroll classes the following school year. Assessment of the program revealed that Students in the class are staying in school at the end of the year at a higher rate then other colleges without this program. Based on the evaluation of the cost of the project, it was revealed that the class project theory is sustainable. It does not require large amount of fund since the resources needed are very common tools we use in our daily living.
Involvement of freshmen/first year students was proven to be very important in increasing retention rate of students in college. Familiarity among peers and a sense of belongingness is a great source of encouragement for students to finish their degree. A good first year college experience also boosts self confidence of students. The study conducted clearly showed that students that feel involved actually have a lower dropout rate than other students.
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