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The Landscape of First-Year Programming in Two-Year Institutions

A student’s first year at a new college is a critically important period—academically, socio-emotionally, personally, and professionally. To help incoming college students succeed, many institutions offer First-Year Experience (FYE) programs. But most of the research on the scope and effectiveness of these programs centers on four-year colleges and universities, overlooking an important sector of the postsecondary student population–namely students in two-year programs.

To begin to fill this research gap, Ithaka S+R and Two Year First Year (TYFY), with support from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, launched a project to focus on institutions that serve this student group. In our report, which includes results from a national survey as well as interviews with select community college staff, we summarize research on institutional supports for first year students in two-year programs and provide new information regarding existing first-year programming at 174 public institutions serving two-year students across the country. Ithaka S+R and TYFY will host a live webinar on October 11, 2018 to share and discuss project findings and next steps with the higher education community. For more information and to register, please sign up here.

We find that first-year programming is very common among the public institutions that participated in our survey, which offered an average of six core first-year activities. Orientation and first-year seminars or success courses were most common across the participating institutions, while relatively few offered college readiness surveys or first-year mentoring programs. A sizeable minority of participating institutions report offering a coordinated program that serves first-year students or a similar population (FYE program).

In our sample, the colleges that offer FYE program differ from those that do not in a number of ways. They offer more first-year activities on average, and are especially more likely to offer l programming that is backed by some experimental evidence of positive impacts on student outcomes in the two-year context (e.g. mentor programs, summer bridge programs, learning communities, and corequisite developmental coursework). They are also more likely to focus on career-related activities, and to offer programming that is targeted specifically to subgroups of underserved students, including low-income, low-performing, and high-achieving students.

The results suggest that institutions do not significantly tailor their first-year programming to the two-year context. However, the survey findings, backed by interviews with select institutional administrators, suggest that coordinating first-year practices through a dedicated program or department may assist two-year institutions in providing more mission- and evidence-driven services for their particular student populations. To that end, they may also especially benefit from conducting within-institution research and data analysis to inform their programming decisions.

Future research would benefit from attempting to identify the goals behind the wide array of discrete first-year activities, rather than focus narrowly on the activities themselves, and identify different avenues for reaching these goals within the two-year context.

We hope to see you at our webinar on October 11, 2018 at 2:00 pm. Registration is now open.

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