Research data indicates that the First Year Experience course is an effective tool for preparing students for success in college. Students report that their enrollment in this course assisted them in making a successful transition to college and completing their degrees. The 2001 FYI Benchmarking Survey conducted by EBI found that over 35,000 first-year students at 62 four-year institutions rated 1-credit first-year seminars as “less effective” overall than 2- or 3-credit. UALR’s course is a graded, three-credit hour course.
UALR’s First year experience course was first introduced in 1977. Since then, the first year experience courses have continued to evolve. Curriculum review and assessment of learning objectives have been a critical part of this evolution.
Long before external constituents began to raise the level of awareness and demand that institutions of higher education rethink retention, graduation rates, and student satisfaction, UALR was purposefully interested in creating a sense of community through a variety of initiatives. One early thrust was the development of a one credit hour, non-graded course. In 1977, 43 students elected to enroll in a college developmental course titled “Human Potential.” Since then, the Personal Awareness (PEAW) courses have continued to evolve. Curriculum review and assessment of learning objectives have been a critical part of this evolution. In fall 2001, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock began its participation in the First Year Initiative (FYI) survey benchmarking pilot study along with other colleges and universities nationwide, representing UALR’s continuing commitment to the enhancement of the First Year Initiative (FYI).
A Comprehensive Historical Perspective
Institutional Leadership and Longevity of the Program. Upon the development of the one credit hour, non-graded course entitled “Human Potential” in 1977, the collaborative effort of faculty, student services professionals, and the administration resulted in the formation of University College in 1986. The impetus for the college’s formation was the provision of developmental academic advising for all entering students and a concept of integrated services for students. University College is the first “academic home” to all entering students. Later, these services were joined by an institutionally supported Cooperative Education component.
To reinforce these efforts, former UALR Chancellor Charles Hathaway appointed a Retention Task Force Implementation Committee consisting of faculty, staff, and students to review issues related to retention. Each vice chancellor (Academic Affairs, Student Services, and Financial Services) served as conveners. Membership on the committee represented the Undergraduate Council, Deans Council, and the Student Government Association. A recommendation came from this committee to enhance UALR’s First-Year Experience course.
In 1991, the UALR Undergraduate Council approved on additional college credit hour (from one to two) and a title change: PEAW 1200 – The First Year Experience. A separate course PEAW 1124 was established for the first year students selected for the Chancellor’s Leadership Scholarship.
Service Learning. In collaboration with the UALR First-Year Experience program, the Office of Campus and Community Partnerships (OCCP) served as recruiter, convener, and facilitator for the service learning component of the program. This role is a natural extension of OCCP’s efforts to expand, support, and promote the concept of weaving service learning across our campus and building on our mission to engage over 1,000 students annually in service to their community.
External and Institutional Resources. In 1997, the Arkansas Department of Higher Education awarded UALR a $25,000 competitive grant to provide for professional development activities and support of First-Year initiatives. The 1998 amount was increased to $59,000. In 1997, Dr. Joyce Weinsheimer, Director of the Faculty and TA Enrichment program at the University of Minnesota conducted a day long Student Success Course Training Workshop on our campus. Forty-four participants, including faculty, staff, and administrators attended. As a follow-up to this training, plans were made to send a team of instructors to a two-day training session in June.
A live, interactive, three-hour teleconference addressing specific issues related to student success courses was scheduled on our campus in March and was well attended. The presenters were Dr. John Gardner and Dr. David Ellis, well-known educators who have designed and implemented many such courses. In 1998, four potential instructors attended Student Services workshops in Kansas City, KS and Atlanta, GA, led by Dr. Ellis. In April, thirty potential instructors attended a special training workshop conducted by Dr. John N. Gardner and Dr. Betsy Barefoot at Little Rock, Arkansas. This workshop included participants from other colleges and universities in the state of Arkansas.
Evolving Models Supporting Student Success. The First-Year Experience course learning objectives have been incorporated into the core curriculum under several different models. For adult first-year students selected sections of the first two rhetoric courses have infused the first-year learning objectives within the curriculum.
The university also offers a variety of one-hour personal awareness (PEAW) courses for first-year students who are in unique positions within UALR. These sections are for student orientation leaders, residential assistants, and Chancellor’s Leadership Corp recipients and they have opportunities to enroll in second, third, and fourth year sections of these courses.
In fall 1998, the First-Year Experience course was included in the second year of UALR’s Learning Community initiative, which invites cohorts of students to enroll in the thematically linked core courses. For example, students in one PEAW section have also enrolled in a section of composition and a section of ethics; students in these linked courses pursue common themes, writing papers focused primarily on the ethical responsibilities of teachers and students. Five such Learning Communities were being offered. That same year, the course was approved for three credit hours (instead of two), including a 15 hour service learning component and an A, B, C, NC grading system.
In fall 2001, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock began its participation in the First Year Initiative (FYI) survey benchmarking pilot study along with other colleges and universities nationwide. This assessment continues today with students participating in PEAW 1300 and PEAW 1124. In fall 2002, a section of PEAW 1124 was designated for the Cyber College’s East/Scholars.
Timeline: 1977 – Present
- 1977: Personal Awareness (PEAW 1100), entitled Human Potential, was a course created for campus survival.
- 1986: University College, the first “academic home” to all entering students, was formed. The college integrated Academic Advising, Counseling, Career Planning and Placement Services, Testing and Student Life Research, and later, Cooperative Education.
- 1991: UALR Undergraduate Council approves the request to add an additional credit hour to the course and a title change: PEAW 1200 – The First-Year Experience. Also, PEAW 1124 approved as a leadership course for first-year students in the Chancellor’s Leadership Class (CLC).
- 1992: PEAW 1200, The First-Year Experience, and PEAW 1124, Chancellor’s Leadership Corp, is offered.
- 1997: Arkansas Department of Higher Education awarded UALR a $25,000 competitive promotional grant to provide for professional development activities and support of First-Year initiatives. Training was provided for faculty, staff, and administrators by Dr. Joyce Weinshemer, Dr. John Gardner, and Dr. David Ellis, all of whom were well-known educators who had designed and implemented many such courses.
- 1997: PEAW 1300 Curriculum Committee reviews and establishes course learning objectives.
- 1998: A research grant from the Policy Center for the First Year of College, supported by the Atlantic Philanthropies and the PEW Charitable Trusts, was awarded for $4,000.
- 1998: One section of PEAW was included in the second year of UALR’s Learning Community initiative UALR’s First Year Experience course was recognized by the prestigious Templeton Foundation and included in The Templeton Guide: Colleges that Encourage Character.
- 1998: Arkansas Department of Higher Education increased UALR’s award to $59,000 in support of professional development activities for First-Year initiatives.
- 1998: UALR Undergraduate Council approves one additional college credit hour to include a service learning component, and a grading system of A, B, C, or NC (no credit) for the First-Year Experience Course.
- 1998: A Faculty Assessment Coordinator is contracted with to establish assessment protocols. Assessment protocols include the administration of the Freshman Demographic Survey (FDS), Freshman Attitude Survey (FAS), evaluation of the service-learning experience, and evaluation of a course portfolio.
- 2001 – Present: UALR began its participation in the First Year Initiative (FYI) survey pilot benchmarking study along with other colleges and universities nationwide.
- 2002 – Present: A research grant from the Policy Center for the First Year of College, supported by the Atlantic Philanthropies and the PEW Charitable Trusts, was awarded for $4,000. A section of PEAW 1124 was designated for the Engineering and Information Technology East/Scholars.
- 2005: The First-Year Experience Course received a UALR Assessment Excellence Award.
- 2011: The First-Year Experience Course is now a required course for all first time freshman at UALR.