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University Business: College orientation: Making an impact (Moravian College)

Creative ways to welcome students and help ensure they stay

By: Web Editor

November 26, 2018

It turns out that a key factor in students finishing college is their experience during the very start of college, from the moment they send their deposit through freshman orientation.  

Institutions find that switching the focus of orientation to fostering campus connections boosts student engagement, and research links student connectedness to retention.  

So at many institutions, this work begins long before move-in day, and it continues during orientation and throughout freshman year.

Nationwide, about 40 percent of students who started college in fall 2015 had left by the following year, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.  

Orientation itself has been linked to college enjoyment and higher grades. In a 2016 survey by Oohlala Mobile (now Ready Education), students who had a positive orientation experience were 17 percent more likely to report a positive overall student life experience.

 Those who didn’t like orientation were 71 percent more likely to report a grade of C or lower.  

“Any one-day experience can only do so much to move a needle—it can be a good start,” says Kevin Hartshorn, dean of student success at Moravian College in Pennsylvania. “You’re only going to have long-term impact if you follow through.”  

And even then, with student success, “there’s no silver bullet,” he adds. “It takes a long and dedicated process. It starts at admissions and [continues with orientation] and regular touchpoints throughout the semester.”  

Here’s how five colleges and universities with innovative orientation approaches are striving to make an impact on engagement and persistence.

Moravian College, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

Approach: About 35 incoming freshmen out of a class of about 475 participate in week-long, preorientation service projects through The 1742 Experience program. Leaders select participants based on volunteer experience and motivation.

Method: The college partners with community organizations that are in need of volunteers, and students work in small groups or as a whole group in a variety of locations.  The groups vary by day, and students are assigned randomly so they can try new experiences and get to know as many classmates as possible. Students pay $200 each to cover housing, meals, local transportation and evening activities; financial aid is available.  Throughout freshman year, 1742 students continue to meet, completing bimonthly service projects together.  

Results: The college retention rate for these students is 98 percent. In the past four years, only two out of 120 participants did not return for sophomore year.  

Administrator insight: “Service has been proven to be a high-impact opportunity. Students are more apt to see the benefit of their overall education. Service opportunities give you friends and a safe space. … One of the best retention efforts involves connecting with children—America Reads, Boys & Girls Clubs, mentoring. They feel needed with children in the community, and they’re more likely to stay.” —Gillian Sharkey, director of civic engagement, Center for Career and Civic Engagement

Theresa Sullivan Barger is a Connecticut-based writer. To read this article on University Business, please click College orientation: Making an impact