New freshmen starting school in the fall aren’t the only incoming students this year. In a sense, first-year students are about to double in population as incoming sophomores wrap up a year of remote learning. Some sophomores have yet to set foot on campus while others have only experienced college on a micro level through a hybrid learning model. The Chronicle of Higher Education and Davidson College report:
- 44% of colleges were fully or primarily online in fall 2020
- 21% adopted a hybrid instruction model
- 27% were fully or primarily in person
Even for students who were on campus last year, classrooms and dorms were emptier than usual, campus events and school traditions were postponed, and physical distancing made it difficult to participate in student organizations, study groups, tutoring sessions, etc. Many students struggled to find quiet places to study amid family and roommates. Students also raised concerns about the quality of online education compared to the cost.
This year’s rising sophomores will be finding their way and trying to develop a new or deeper sense of belonging just as much as incoming freshmen. Faculty will need to be prepared for the influx of students heading their way.
Faculty’s Role in the Transition
First-year students need support in unique ways. Many are living on their own for the first time, learning how to approach coursework, searching for a job, trying to connect with fellow students, figuring out how to pay for college, and more. Navigating new territory isn’t easy and it can quickly become overwhelming. Last year’s freshmen didn’t have the college experience they expected. Events that were meant to happen in person (classes, job fairs, student organization fairs, counseling, club meetings) happened virtually, decreasing opportunities for students to connect with faculty and each other. Professors offered more leniency and grace periods for assignments than they would have in a typical school year. Online instruction models changed the way students participated in class, studied, and completed coursework. This year, students will be playing social and academic catch-up as they adjust to a new environment that’s vastly different from their virtual first-year experience.
How faculty can help:
- Be prepared for a rise in student support needs. In what areas do first-year students typically need the most help? Are you ready to handle a potential surge in requests, phone calls, and appointments? Make sure you have the right people and tools in place to answer student questions quickly so a wait list doesn’t take over.
- Ensure students know exactly where to find the resources they need (tutoring, library services, office hours, academic or personal counseling, financial aid, writing centers). Having a list of email addresses on a website is good, but that’s not enough. Students need a simple, fast, and effective way to connect with the right faculty member for one-on-one support whenever they need it.
- Consider starting a program or student organization to help students transition into a new environment. The University of Tennessee is launching Vols Start Back, a program to help reorient students back to in-person campus life in the fall. Other universities are hosting sophomore orientations or connecting underclassmen to peer mentors to help them acclimate.
Giving students access to the right resources and faculty for support increases the likelihood of success and persistence. After a year of staring at computer screens, most students are eager to get back to campus and continue their college experience in a normal way. They’ll probably just need a little extra help navigating the system, and it is faculty’s responsibility to make sure they have access to the resources they need to thrive.