A New Look at New Student Orientation
When Dr. Kate Hetherington became president of Howard Community College (HCC) in 2007, she made completion a top priority, encouraging faculty and staff to develop innovative instructional techniques and support services aimed at bolstering student success. She also launched a team of faculty and staff from across the college who examine practices and recommend improvements that will support student completion.
Among the college’s strategic changes are a redesigned new student orientation. Four years ago, the number of students participating in HCC’s college-wide orientation amounted to just 600 annually. Data from the Community College Survey of Student Engagement found that only 36 percent of students participated in an orientation program, with another 33 percent reporting they were unable to participate due to their schedules.
HCC staff recognized that increasing engagement in orientation was another way to increase student completion.
“Students who attend new student orientation benefit from the experience; they are retained and persist,” said Candace dePass, assistant director of co-curricular programs in the office of student life.
Of the new students who attend orientation, over 80 percent return the following spring, compared to 60 percent of those who do not attend an orientation.
After examining survey data, staff set new benchmarks for participation and revamped orientation to feature a meet and greet with student leaders, a comprehensive campus tour, workshops on topics like technology resources and mathematics success, and information about financial aid opportunities. One of the most popular additions has been the meal with faculty tailored to a student’s academic interests.
As dePass explains, the lunch may be a student’s first interaction with a college professor; student survey results show it is successful for both students and faculty.
“I loved that we were allowed to talk to teachers in our major to get a better understanding of what was expected and what will help us in the long run,” said Myia Mackey, a student.
The Office of Student Life recognized that other offices across the college orient new students to campus life through activities specifically designed for students’ unique needs, such as athletes, veterans, international students, and honor students.
As a result of these changes to orientation, the number of first-time and transfer students attending new student orientation or an orientation activity has more than doubled. Just last year, the figure jumped to 1,300.
The latest effort to improve orientation is the development of an updated online version that will make orientation easily accessible to everyone. With an online orientation and the addition of orientation mini-sessions, the office of student life hopes to exceeds its benchmark of 50 percent of all new students participating in orientation, which, in turn, will help even greater numbers of students complete.