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Emily Jensen.jpgJenna Nobili and Emily Jensen, University of Central Florida

Jenna Nobili.jpgColleges and universities across the nation are expanding their programs to include living-learning communities.The growth of living-learning communities (LLC) has focused on serving special student populations, many structured around majors or areas of interests (McClean, Lackey, Hennessey, & Payne, 2011). In an effort to improve the retention rate of out-of-state students, the University of Central Florida (UCF) launched a living-learning community for out-of-state, first year students. The program includes residential and curricular components as well as support from advising and peer mentors.

The out-of-state student population at UCF

The University of Central Florida is located in Orlando, FL, one of the tourist meccas of the world. Theme parks, beaches, and gorgeous weather make the university’s location a huge sell for out-of-state students.  UCF has a student population of over 58,000, making it the second-largest university in the United States with over 90 undergraduate majors.  Additionally, many out-of-state students are attracted to the Rosen College of Hospitality Management which offers three hospitality degrees, with Orlando serving as the landscape for experiential learning.

Building an out-of-state living-learning community

Yet with all these positive factors, the university noticed that the retention rates for the out-of-state freshman population were not as high as the Florida residents. The office of First Year Experience launched the Out-of-State Student Mentoring (OSSM, pronounced “awesome”) program in 2005 as a way to match out-of-state freshmen with peer mentors. Qualitative feedback from these students indicated that first year, out-of-state students were feeling isolated, as their in-state roommates frequently went home or were well-connected to other students at the institution. With the first year, out-of-state population averaging less than 5% of the approximate 6,500 freshman class at UCF, one could understand how an out-of-state student may feel out of place.

In 2008, the OSSM program quickly expanded its support structures and was redesigned as a living-learning community, accommodating 56 students. Coordinated primarily by the offices of First Year Experience and Housing and Residence Life, the program was supported by two out-of-state resident assistants, six peer mentors, and a reserved section of English Composition 1. Because students become more engaged in learning programs and academic resources when involved in living-learning partnership programs (Elkins Nesheim, McDonald, Guentzel, Wells, Kellogg, & Whitt, 2007), First Year Advising and Exploration joined the OSSM team in 2009 to provide students with the added benefit of an assigned academic advisor, additional course options, and enhanced academic programming. With social, residential, and academic components now in place, the professional staff working with the program could provide a more consistent level of support to these students. Currently, for the 2011-2012 OSSM cohort, there are 112 student participants, 13 peer mentors, four resident assistants, and one graduate assistant.

Advising and academic support

In response to the growth of the program, the OSSM academic advisor expanded the reserved courses for students to now include nine options throughout the academic year, including a freshman success seminar course and General Education Program course options such as English and Psychology. OSSM students have indicated in surveys that the reserved courses have enhanced the overall quality of the class and provided them with the opportunity to make friends and study with an instant network of students.

Most recently, the OSSM academic advisor has implemented an advising intake form that students fill out online prior to their appointment. The survey asks students questions regarding their transition to and satisfaction with the university and their purpose for making the appointment. It also addresses concerns in their current courses, satisfaction with choice of major, and goal GPA. This tool has made the advising sessions with out-of-state students more targeted and thorough. Students are often more open about issues when they have identified these concerns ahead of time and the survey helps to guide the appointment.

Additionally, OSSM students benefit from a wide array of academic programming that is facilitated by the academic advisor, peer mentors, resident assistants and graduate assistant. Workshops focus on topics such as time management, GPA calculation, retaining scholarships, and taking summer courses at other institutions through the transient process. These workshops are typically facilitated in the residence halls, bringing an academic focus to the students’ living environment.

Out-of-state student retention

Since the start of the OSSM LLC in 2008, first year students in the program consistently achieve an average GPA of 3.18, which is higher than the average GPA of 2.9-3.0 for the overall first year student population. Over the past three years, the average first year retention rate has been 87%. In comparison, first year students who participate in OSSM are retained at similar rates and have significantly higher retention rates than their first year, out-of-state peers:

Cohort

OSSM Retention Rate

Out-of-State First Year Retention Rate

Difference in Retention Rate

2010-2011

87.2%

78.8%

+8.4%

2009-2010

87.2%

76.1%

+11.1%

2008-2009

87.8%

79.5%

+8.3%

Conclusion

In developing the OSSM LLC, key partnerships were formed between the offices of First Year Experience, First Year Advising and Exploration, and Housing and Residence Life, in order to ensure consistent interventions were put in place to help students be academically and socially successful. These offices have since become advocates for the common needs and issues of out-of-state students. The program has demonstrated success and increased retention by connecting students who share the experience of being out of state and encounter unique transition issues. As one student observed, living with OSSM “is a great way to establish a community with other students who are going through the same transition as you.”

As advisors, it is important to consider the culture of the out-of-state student population at our institutions. Are out-of-state students a minority population? What are the retention rates of these students? Are there any current programs or initiatives that exist to support out-of-state students? By answering these questions, advisors can determine if this programming model can be adapted to fit the needs of their institution.

Jenna Nobili
First Year Advising and Exploration
University of Central Florida
Jenna.Nobili@ucf.edu

Emily Jensen
First Year Experience
University of Central Florida
Emily.Jensen@ucf.edu

References

Elkins Nesheim, B., McDonald, W. M., Guentzel, M. J., Wells, C. A., Kellogg, A. H., & Whitt, E. J. (2007). Outcomes for students of student affairs -- Academic affairs partnership programs.Journal of College Student Development, 48 (4), 435-454.

McLean, L., Lackey, K., Hennessey, P. & Payne, R. (2011). Advising in learning communities: A collaborative approach. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site: http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Clearinghouse/AdvisingIssues/learning_communities.htm

Cite this article using APA style as: Nobili, J. & Jensen, E. (2012, June). Supporting an out-of-state student population through living-learning communities. Academic Advising Today, 35(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]

Posted in: 2012 June 35:2

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