To many students who started college under the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic, Wyatt Ashton’s freshman experience sounds familiar. He only met one of his professors in person. He did not participate in any extracurricular activities, nor did he join any clubs. He spent most of his time hanging out with his three roommates and four women in a suite in their lobby, and he socialized with about 15 students. He said that this number will only grow so high because a woman in his dormitory’s core group is particularly outgoing.
Ashton is a secondary education major at Arizona State University and maintains a perfect grade point average. But he withdrew from the math class, he was worried that he would fail otherwise. At the same time, he found that his other courses were not challenging. Ashton said that in general, “teachers don’t know how to adjust their lesson plans instead of lectures.” And, he added, “Lectures on Zoom are simply boring.”
Freshman year is to figure out who and what you like. Ideally, students interact with at least one teacher outside of class, changing from meeting friends on campus to making friends. They began to identify their interests in academic and other areas, and figure out how to pursue these interests. To facilitate this, the university provides a large number of people for first-year students to learn about and try new things-and prompt them to take advantage of these at every turning point.
Sophomores who have risen this year—even students who have lived and studied on campus strictly for a year—such as Ashton—have not gained sufficient wealth. They didn’t get that kind of push. Therefore, the autumn university will have two batches of first-year students in many aspects.
Sophomores do not want to be treated as freshmen. But they are eager to make up for lost time socially. “The first thing they want is to be able to get to know their classmates,” said Paula Pache, assistant director of the first-year program of core courses at Elon University. “They want to expand their circle of friends.” She said, which means interacting with classmates in a more normal way. This also means gathering in larger groups without university supervision.
In their first year of university, ascending sophomores know that many professors have extended the academic grace period, so students have not fully studied the course. At the same time, many people see their study habits collapse and become more worried that they are falling behind. Professors will have to restore them to health like trainers or coaches, said Paige, who is also a senior lecturer in English. “We need to develop endurance,” she said, “don’t assume it’s there.”
Aaron Thompson, chairman of the Kentucky Higher Education Commission, said that when it comes to high schools and colleges, rising sophomores receive far less personal support when they enter college. He said this makes it harder for everyone to adapt, especially the first generation of students.
This is why the council include Efforts to support rising sophomores Grant This year’s $1.5 million competitive grant was used to support the summer “bridge” program for universities in the state. “It has nothing to do with whether they can complete college courses,” Thompson said. “The key is whether they can go to college.”
Thompson said that although it is not yet clear how much the pandemic will affect learning, there is no point in waiting for help. Universities already know what kind of efforts can increase retention rates. “You can get nothing but return on investment,” Thompson said with this support, and he has always wanted to raise funds for bridge projects. He said that if learning is not affected, additional support from the state will accelerate learning, “this is not bad.”
“We can’t pretend that everything is fine”
Kevin Gooding holds two positions at West Virginia University’s Honors College, where he is responsible for guiding his life and learning community and assistant professor of teaching services. In these two roles, his focus is to help students build relationships that he believes are essential to their success.
Last year, Covid safety precautions ruled out many of Gooding’s first choices, such as taking students on field trips and spending time in dormitories. Gooding continues to teach in person and transfers the rest of his work online as much as possible. But he said the situation is different. “We are all bored with Zoom.”
Gooding said that something important is missing. “For our second year, we can’t just pretend that everything is fine, they have anything close to a normal year.”
Gooding said that going from freshman to sophomore “may be as difficult as the transition from family to university.” In West Virginia, sophomores usually move off campus, which brings many new responsibilities—and reduces their contact time with university staff.
If there is anything famous in the second year of college, it is the downturn in the second year. More and more universities have set up courses designed to differentiate sophomores in a good way, perhaps through close collaboration between students and mentors or conducting research projects. Even if such support already exists, this group of sophomores may have unusual needs.
Gooding knows that the first-year students who worked with him last year need extra help to get the power on, and are discussing with colleagues at the Honors College how best to provide this help. He knew he wanted this year’s sophomores to participate in the kind of field trips they usually do as freshmen. This is an academically conscious excursion-Gooding includes a professor whose expertise is related to any website they visit. Even so, Gooding said, for many students, the most meaningful part of the journey is their conversation on the bus going home.
Back on track
Everyone is worried about what distance teaching means to students’ academic performance. When officials at Georgia State University looked at student performance during the pandemic, the distribution was very similar to the previous semester. But this is overall. Tim Renick, executive director of the university’s National Student Success Institute, said that when the results are broken down by grade, the situation looks completely different. Juniors and seniors performed better than usual. But among freshmen, the number of courses in which students got D, failed, or dropped out has increased significantly.
This makes sense, once you think about it. Senior students have figured out how to become successful college students. They are likely to take courses that they are interested in or invest in. In contrast, ascending sophomores have no previous college experience and are more likely to take large introductory courses, and they may not be aware of its importance.
In response, Georgia State University is running an accelerator program this summer to help ascending sophomores get back on track. The university has identified a set of core prerequisite courses, and with the support of fellow student mentors, it has recruited teachers who are good at teaching freshmen to manage these courses. Georgia is using stimulus funds to pay for student tuition, so the program will not weaken their financial aid. The course offers face-to-face and online courses, attended by 750 sophomores.
University leaders are also considering students’ lives outside the classroom. Last year, Renick said that students living on campus may live alone in a suite, and they usually have three roommates. Many clubs have been unable to function properly.
“So how do we restore all of this?” Renick asked. “This won’t be a one-off.” One approach that Georgia State University is trying is to apply its analysis to student affairs, use the platform to ask students about their interests, and connect them to possible extracurricular activities.
Ashton is a student at Arizona State University. He knew he could have been more involved in campus activities, but the idea of attending the Zoom Club Expo was not attractive. He believes that if he sees flyers on campus, or hears other students talking about their own participation, he will be more likely to join in certain things.
The academic and introverted Ashton said he never thought of joining the Brotherhood a year ago. Now he is planning. “It wasn’t until last semester that I thought my social needs were so great,” he said. Ashton believes that even if he does not participate in everything the fraternity does, this will bring him in touch: with other students and other activities such as intramural sports. These connections, he learned through painstaking methods, are at the core of his university experience.