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Friday, February 13, 2009

SOPHOMORE college SLUMP?

While I applaud the generally fair and balanced article on the Sophomore College in the February 13 Trinitonian, it seems that the general resistance to the Sophomore College initiative is based on some misperceptions as well as reluctance to change, rather than on the substance of the program.

The consistent criticism of the Sophomore College initiative centers on these areas: first, students should have choice, and second, the administration (Residential Life, specifically) ignores student opinion. Of course it was long-term student opinion that led to Sophomore College.

In 2006 one task force determined that there was a lack of community and attention given to students on campus after the first year. Indeed, according to annual surveys, student satisfaction consistently decreased for students the longer they lived on campus. Initiatives such as the Community Initiatives program were developed to address issues of self-governance and community-building. Further data collection revealed that the same issues of dissatisfaction in the upperclass halls persisted.

The primary issue has been that upperclass students had first choice in room selection, with sophomores getting the left-overs. In these residence halls there was little to no interaction between sophomores and the busy juniors and seniors.

The 2006 task force studied these issues again and found that the Community Initiative program was not sufficient in addressing student concerns about the upperclass residence halls. That task force felt that a broad-based change was needed to address issues that all sophomores face. Programs that simply allow students to opt in weren't attractive because they would be limited in scope and would not address the student issues that were persisting regarding the upperclass experience. All of the members of the task force signed off on the final report and that year's ASR supported the recommendations. Indeed, to reinforce the recommendations ASR changed the way senators are elected so they can represent students by class as recommended by the 2006 Task Force.

Thoughtful student opinion was sought through two task forces and a number of surveys. This is why the Residential Life Office is committed to the long-term Sophomore College program. The Sophomore College is one of several recommendations, in fact, to improve the upperclass experience. Other recommendations included adding a welcome week for returning students, developing class unity, and addressing important student topics through programming.

This year staff members Katie Storey and Cally Chenault have worked hard to implement this program. They have been under pressure to deliver in the face of students who have approached the Sophomore College with skepticism. Some efforts and approaches have succeeded and some are evolving. The staff is committed to seeing this program through until it can be fully assessed. To truly evaluate the program it needs time and we need distance from the resistance that continues to recycle itself from some of the same people who have never been supportive of the program.

I have begun hearing many more positive anecdotal reports from students in the Sophomore College. The program is intended to bolster student success, to improve retention, and address the developmental, social, and academic needs of students. Trinity's program is innovative and distinctive and deserves a chance. Who could argue with that?

4 comments:

Janet said...

Hi, I'm a parent and thought I'd post a comment. I have an older grown-up daughter who attended a small liberal arts college. They were implementing a Sophomore "Experience" at her college a few years back. Their first year was a bit bumpy. I suspect your staff members are talking to folks at other colleges to see what works there; if not, it could be very worthwhile. I applaud your efforts to make this work. Thanks.
Sophomore Parent

David Tuttle said...

We have indeed checked out other programs. The one at Colgate is probably the best one we have seen that extends as broadly as ours does. We also know that some places have first year student housing with most juniors and seniors living off campus, resulting in de facto sophomore housing. I want to say we are unique and yet not unusual. Having our cake and eating it too!

Anthony said...

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Anthony said...

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