University 101

By Laura McDonough

A focus group held in the DeBartolo Hall auditorium Wednesday discussed the possibility of adding a first-year experience course to the general education requirements.

Joseph Palardy, general education coordinator, presented the basic idea of the proposed course before opening it to public discussion.

Two reasons for introducing the course are the need for increased completion and retention rates and the desire to create a common experience.

Palardy said six-year graduation rates were at 32 percent in 2008, which could be considered unacceptable at a school marketing its programs as four-year degrees.

Jacob Schriner-Briggs, executive vice president of Youngstown State University’s Student Government Association, said that because students test out of or take different required courses, students are not necessarily taking the same courses and having a shared experience.

“You could finish the gen-ed model, and I could finish the gen-ed model, and we don’t have to take any of the same courses,” Schriner-Briggs said.

Three models were suggested for students at different levels. Palardy said this was because one size does not fit all.

The first is a “University 101” course that focuses on student success with limited academics.

The second is a hybrid course that would focus on the foundations of student success with a more academic focus.

The third model would be considered a freshman seminar. The course would be almost exclusively academic with a focus on writing and critical thinking. The only student success content would be what was state mandated.

Schriner-Briggs said there are no definitive plans, but conversations about content are ongoing.

Participants in the open forum voiced concerns about staffing the courses.

To accommodate the average freshman class, there would need to be around 100 courses with three different models every fall. Using existing faculty to staff the courses may not be a viable option, and hiring new faculty members may not be possible.

There was discussion about whether or not concepts like money management should be included. A member of the general education board said he didn’t want to teach “things that should have been learned in high school.” Another participant asked how we can help students without providing them with life skills high schools neglect to teach.

There was little discussion about what would actually be taught in these courses, only that they would be required and would boost graduation and retention rates, mainly because other universities have implemented similar programs that work.

The University of South Carolina was mentioned — the school had an approximately 80 percent attendance rate in the elective course — and they’ve set an example for other universities to follow.

Palardy said he did not talk to many students when considering what should be taught in these courses and didn’t say what information he gathered, only that it was “not a great sample.”

In addition to academic content, state mandated material would be presented to students, such as the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, which addresses sexual assault on campus.

One participant brought up that IGNITE — the new freshman orientation program — covered this information. However, approximately half of the current freshman class did not attend.

The university has considered this type of course in the past, although no one could say whether a formal proposal had ever gone before the Academic Senate.

Although the program is not yet ready, Schriner-Briggs said piloting a few first-year experience courses in fall 2016 is realistic, if the academic senate approves the proposal.