Two CUNY Colleges Win National Award For Excellence of Freshman Programs

Two colleges in The City University of New York — LaGuardia Community College and Lehman College — have each been named as an “Institution of Excellence in the First College Year” by the Policy Center on the First Year of College, a national research center with a basic mission to improve the first year of college. Only 11 other colleges in the country were chosen to receive this competitive award, including just one in New York State (the U.S. Military Academy at West Point).

The Policy Center, directed by John N. Gardner, is funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and The Atlantic Philanthropies and is located in Brevard, North Carolina.

LaGuardia, a community college in Queens, and Lehman, a senior college in the Bronx, were chosen from a field of 130 nominees through a competitive selection process. A national panel of higher education experts made the final selections based on the following criteria: an intentional, comprehensive approach to first-year student education; continuous improvement driven by meaningful assessment; broad impact on significant numbers of first-year students; strong enduring institutional support and leadership for first-year initiatives; and an involvement of a broad range of faculty, student affairs professionals, administrators and others in first-year programs.

LaGuardia’s first-year activities have been designed to foster academic success as well as create a sense of community and connectedness to the college among a highly diverse group of students, many with developmental or English-as-a-Second-Language needs. LaGuardia has been able to achieve first-year persistence rates averaging 65% over the past five years, exceeding the national average for first-year persistence at public two-year colleges.

LaGuardia’s comprehensive first-year program includes:

  • First-year learning communities that link developmental courses such as ESL with credit-bearing courses such as Introduction to Business, Introduction to Computers, and Introduction to Sociology. What the success of such learning communities shows, according to Dr. Paul Arcario, dean of academic affairs and co-chair of the College’s First-Year Experience Committee, is that “the most effective basic skills instruction occurs when such instruction is closely coordinated with regular college course work.”
  • Pre-freshman intensive courses in its “Quick Start” summer program helping to accelerate first-year students through the basic skills course sequences.
  • A new student seminar designed to provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to be successful in college.
  • An opening sessions for new students that includes the creation of common, shared experiences, particularly intellectual experiences, that set an academic tone and expectations for students, as well as create a greater sense of community and connectedness to the institution.
  • A common reading for freshmen, designed to create a shared intellectual experience for first-year students.
  • A mentoring program where faculty, staff, and alumni volunteers are matched up with first-year students for the purpose of helping them negotiate the system and guiding them to necessary campus support services.
  • Use of technology to enhance the first-year programs. Faculty members are being trained to incorporate technology-based pedagogies into their teaching approaches; basic skills tutorial labs are being computertized, and on-line tutoring for first-year students is being piloted. This year students in newly designed Freshman Interest Groups are beginning the process of creating their own websites and electronic portfolios to improve learning and assessment.

Lehman’s Coordinated Freshman Programs (CFP) represent a comprehensive institutional effort that, over the last decade, has transformed the first-year experience at the College and contributed significantly to a five-year graduation rate that has more than doubled in this period. Approximately 2100 students were enrolled in the programs last year.

“We found,” said Dr. Steven Wyckoff, CFP director and author of the narrative that led to the award, “that students were moving through a fragmented freshman year without a sense of connection, without a cohesive structure that explained how x is related to y — or more to the point — how x and y are related to them. Our students need to learn the relationship between their day-to-day college experiences and the goal of earning a college degree and entering the professional world of work.”

The structure Lehman developed constitutes a twelve-month continuum of academic and support activities, a cohesive framework that assures student passage from basic skills to sophomore-year readiness.

All Lehman freshmen begin their regular studies with the Freshman Year Initiative (FYI), which includes:

  • Coordination of courses to enable the same group of students to stay together for their particular set of classes. The courses themselves are linked in an interdisciplinary approach, which encourages faculty to collaborate on instruction. As a result, intellectual connections are fostered between students, between students and faculty, and between disciplines.
  • A partnership with the Lincoln Center Institute, the educational division of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, to incorporate aesthetic education into the freshman curriculum. The program provides for live performances as well as for a teaching artist, who works in the classroom and also runs workshops for students and faculty.
  • A series of workshops that encourage students to define and resolve issues that interfere with academic progress. The workshops explore a range of themes, chosen by students.
  • An early intervention system that pinpoints those students with initia· l signs of academic difficulty.
  • A pilot mentoring project to further strengthen relationship· s between freshmen and faculty.
  • A freshman seminar to help with the transition from high school to college life.

In addition to LaGuardia and Lehman, the other institutions selected by the Policy Center are: Appalachian State University; Ball State University; Community College of Denver; Eckerd College (FL); Elon University (NC); Drury University (MO); Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis; Kalamazoo College (MI); Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi; University of South Carolina; and the U.S. Military Academy.