The study took place at a medium-sized public university in the midwestern United States. A total of 100 first year experience course sections were offered to students in the fall of 2006.
In the overall sample of students, 40% were male, 93% were White, the average age was 18.6 (SD = .34) years, 16% were from low-income households, 42% were first generation college students, and the average ACT score was 24.3 (SD = 2.87).
The first-year experience (FYE) program in this study was designed to offer academic and extracurricular services to first-time freshmen and to help integrate participating students into the university setting. The university offers 100 different FYE course sections, and almost all (> 85%) first-time freshmen enroll in an FYE course. The FYE courses are linked to a specific course topic (e.g., biology, economics, algebra, calculus, psychology, Spanish) and involve small group peer activities (FYEs were capped at 20 students for enrollment), close work with a faculty member, and a student peer mentor. The FYE program goals are to introduce students to core course content, enhance academic skills (including content knowledge, study skills, time management, etc.), strengthen connections to the university, engage students in out-of-class activities, and enhance student accountability. The FYE also aims to foster connections with at least one faculty member and provide a peer educational learning community. Regardless of whether teaching an FYE or non-FYE course, instructors must cover the same basic topical materials (i.e., both FYE and non-FYE biology must cover the same biology content), and grades must be determined on comparable assignments and exams. The author noted that integrating the FYE material without compromising the original core course was difficult, and that the time commitment for extracurricular activities was problematic for FYE faculty.
Students in the comparison condition were full-time, first-year college students who did not enroll in any FYE course sections during fall 2006. These students enrolled in courses typical of first-year students at the university.
Support for implementation
Informal, voluntary faculty and peer mentor training workshops were provided, with no procedures to hold instructors accountable for meeting program goals. There was no formal application process for selecting FYE faculty and no added value placed on performance reviews for teaching FYE.