Improving student success rates with First Year Success

May 15th, 2014

Janet Harron

Improving student success rates with First Year Success

Students are told to prepare for their marks inevitably going down during their first year in university.

But for Megan Power, an alumnus of the 2012-13 First Year Success cohort, her marks have actually gone up. Way up.

“First Year Success changed my life! University isn’t impossible – you just have to know how to manage your time and that’s what you learn in FYS,” said Ms. Power, who took a year off between high school and university.

Now a commerce student doing a joint degree in economics, Ms. Power says she wouldn’t be where she is today without the program.

Emerging from the Teaching and Learning Framework, the pan-university pilot project is aimed at incoming students on the St. John’s campus with entrance averages between 70 and 75 per cent and other students who feel they could benefit from the extra support. 

Research indicates that a large percentage of students entering university with such grades either fail or withdraw during or after first year. First Year Success was established in 2012 with the goal of improving student success rates.

If Megan Power is any example, they are definitely on the right track.

“Megan is an enthusiastic and passionate student who took advantage of all the supports that the First Year Success program offers. She worked hard academically and also became really engaged both inside and out of the classroom,” said Shelly Kawaja, the program’s administrative director. “She got involved in developing a First Year Success society as well as helping out with many First Year Success events. Watching Megan develop those qualities that we want to see in all of our Memorial graduates has been truly inspiring. “ 

Two years into the program, the First Year Success team has discovered that average grades, rates of course completion and the proportion of students in good academic standing are higher for FYS students than for a matching sample group supplied by the Centre for Institutional Analysis and Planning (CIAP). 

The program introduces students to the expectations of university learning, the supports available to them and the skills they require to achieve academic success. This is achieved in part through three credit-bearing cohort courses specifically developed for FYS in which study skills, critical thinking, communications skills and one-on-one guidance are offered. Three additional compulsory courses are provided by the psychology and English departments.  Math is not a mandatory part of the FYS program although it is advised.

The program also encourages class visitors including MUNSU officers, research professors, social and community agencies and non-university professionals in order for students to grasp the relationship between classroom and workplace skills.

“Academic enrichment is closely related to intellectual and emotional development in FYS and our instructors have taken a rounded view of the person in their pedagogy,” said professor Valerie Burton, FYS’s academic director. “This has meant catering to different learning styles and encouraging students to be self-reflexive in their approach to final exams or to publicly presenting their research.” 

This approach worked for Ms. Power. 

“We learned about memory techniques and about how to read faster. The smaller supplementary classes allowed us to ask questions – for me First Year Success wasn’t about the things you don’t know but about learning to be better.”