The Successes and Challenges of Sophomore Year Experience Programs

The Successes and Challenges of Sophomore Year Experience Programs

Heather Brake

Coordinator, Student Involvement, Southern Illinois University

In my last post, The Not-So-Easy Transition: Freshmen to Sophomore Year we discussed the transition from freshmen to sophomore year of college and the difficulties that students experience during this time. Institutions across the country are attempting to ease this transition through a variety of initiatives and programs. Let’s explore the success and challenges that these institutions are facing.

Our biggest challenge leads us back to the beginning of the creation of sophomore experience programming, the implementation of such programming is a relatively new initiative. One of the earliest programs on record began in the early 1990s at Beloit College and is known as the Initiatives Program. Due to how young the overall initiative is, data regarding the impact that programs have had on retention and graduation rates are very limited. One could argue that this is currently a large challenge because in a time when resources are extremely limited, we need numbers and research to support the case for starting sophomore specific programming on our campuses. However, do not let this scare you away from creating such programming. We all have to start somewhere and help to create data that will only continue to better the sophomore year experience programming in the future.

One of our biggest pieces of research to date on this subject is the 2007 survey, “The Sophomore Year Experience Survey,” which both the National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition invited participation from all members of their listservs. The survey was designed to gain a better understanding of the sophomore programming being facilitated at a variety of colleges and universities. From the results of the survey, we gained five key recommendations for sophomore programming:

  1. Give students the power and knowledge to successfully maneuver through the institution’s systems;
  2. Connect faculty and students together to engage in the learning process;
  3. Create campus involvement that is truly satisfying for students;
  4. Tailor academic advising specific to the needs of second year students;
  5. Assist sophomore students in finding ways to connect their strengths to their academic success (Heler, 2012)

The results of The Sophomore Year Experience Survey show some very successful initiatives that are taking place at colleges and universities across the country.

Institutions are finding benefit in not “recreating the wheel” when it comes to beginning sophomore specific programming. Completely new programs are not needed to achieve the outcomes that we hope to achieve from programming, with two prime examples being the areas of academic advising and career services.

These are two programming initiatives already in existence on-campus that can easily be tailored to meet the needs of sophomore students. For example, in academic advising, it is often highly recommended that our second year students have a major chosen by the end of their sophomore year. Academic advisors can begin to focus on this need with our second-year students with targeted outreach, specific programming, and additional training to properly meet students’ developmental needs.

Another successful program that began early on was the partnership between residence life and academic affairs. Institutions began to create living learning communities that included groups of sophomore students that take one to two courses together while also living in the same community. There are many benefits to living in a living learning community, which include but are not limited to: greater academic achievement, increased retention and increased student involvement on campus. Colorado College is a great example of an institution that has implemented this program as they have a group of approximately 15 students that live together and take a second-year-only elective course that covers multiculturalism and democracy.

While this post touches on just a few successes and challenges of sophomore year experience programs there are many more we could explore given time. However, as professionals we need to remember to learn from the challenges and celebrate our successes. What is most important is that we are still continuing to find ways to better support our students.

I hope you’ll plan to join me for the final post in this series, The Student Experience Post-Sophomore Year. In the meantime, I challenge you to continue considering: What more could my institution be doing to better the sophomore year experience?

References:
Powers, E. (2008). Targeting 'The Lost Year' | Inside Higher Ed., From https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2008/01/31/secondyear

Heler, M. (2012, December 1). Summary Report: Understanding the Sophomore Year, from http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0ahUKEwjgz6X66rbJAhWF0h4KHU8pDuoQFggdMAA&url=http://depts.washington.edu/stdntlfe/wpcontent/uploads/2012/02/SYESummaryReportFINAL_12.18.12.pdf&usg=AFQjCNHIjftJfYGfUUNb

About the Author: Heather Brake oversees 400 student organizations at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, IL. Prior to SIUC, Heather worked at Southeast Missouri State University (2010-2014) where she also earned her Bachelor’s degree in Recreation (2008) and Master’s degree in Higher Education Administration (2010). Her research interests include the sophomore year experience and relationship building between professionals & staff members and how it correlates to higher retention numbers. Outside of work, Heather enjoys spending time with friends & family and cooking.

Heather Brake

Coordinator, Student Involvement, Southern Illinois University