UMD hopes new program will retain more students
More than 2,000 new Duluth residents took in their adopted city this weekend in clusters of 15. The University of Minnesota Duluth freshmen joined tours as part of a new program designed to help keep students at the college longer. For the first ...
More than 2,000 new Duluth residents took in their adopted city this weekend in clusters of 15.
The University of Minnesota Duluth freshmen joined tours as part of a new program designed to help keep students at the college longer.
For the first time, participation in three days of activities, beginning Friday afternoon, was mandatory. A massive move-in day was Thursday, with the rest trickling in the next morning. The university's Twin Cities campus began the same type of program this year.
"Freshmen are a super-studied beast," said Megan Perry-Spears, program coordinator of First Year Experience at UMD. "The biggest drop is after freshman year."
UMD has discovered that close to 25 percent of freshmen who start at UMD drop out after the first year, whether they decide to go to another school or quit altogether. The program is meant to help build close ties quickly to the university, the city and other students.
Research shows students leave because they fail to make social connections or develop a sense of belonging, or they have financial stress.
"The No. 1 reason students cite is finances, but I think it's more complex than that," Perry-Spears said. "Twenty thousand dollars is a lot to pay for a place where you don't feel you belong."
Though tuition and fees are about $10,000 this year, housing, meal plans, books and incidentals through the year can double that figure, she said.
The freshmen -- of whom 90 percent will live on campus -- were asked via e-mail throughout the summer to sign up for three required workshops, choosing from a list of 70. They were also assigned to "rock groups" with 14 other students and an upper-class leader, who they would meet with through the four days. Groups take walks through area neighborhoods, travel through the city, learn tips and gain valuable insight about their new surroundings.
"When they start on Tuesday morning, they have questions answered and are ready to buckle down," said Jeni Eltink, director of the first-year experience program.
Not only that, but knowing 15 other people right away ratchets down the "lonely factor," said Perry-Spears.
"In the past, if you didn't click with roommates or neighbors, the first couple of days are kind of a brutal experience," she said.
Students pick from workshops including ones on finances, stress management, jobs on campus, roommates, commuting, dating and math strategies. Every freshman was required to attend "Big Money," a seminar on managing money. Games, volleyball and cookouts were still part of the moving-in process this year.
Freshman Emily Wack of Chaska, Minn., picked banking as one of her workshop choices. She wasn't pleased with having mandatory events during her last four days of freedom before embarking on college life.
"I'm not doing all of them, but I am not ignoring them," she said.
Skipping events doesn't have immediate consequences, Perry-Spears said, but all freshmen will have to write about the experience in one of their classes. About 150 students of the 2,200 projected didn't sign up for any of the weekend. Those who did not will have to make it up.
"It's a pilot program," she said. "We'll find out: Does this work? Does it not?"
Lauren Schulberg of Burnsville, Minn., was excited about free Duluth Transit Authority bus passes for students and the tour of Duluth. But she thought meeting people who lived on her Lake Superior Hall floor would be easier than making friends with a group she might not run into again.
Her mom, Kathy Kern, disagreed.
"I think everyone comes with a certain amount of fear about meeting people," she said. "It's good to force people to get out of their bubble."
JANA HOLLINGSWORTH covers higher education. She can be reached at (218) 279-5501 or by e-mail at jhollingsworth @duluthnews.com.