It's one of the most crucial tasks faced by colleges and universities: Helping freshmen negotiate the critical transition from high school to the academic world. Why? Because the ultimate success or failure of a freshman's college career often depends on a successful adjustment to collegiate life.
For commuter colleges, the job is especially difficult. Since students live off-campus and spend only a part of their day attending classes, integrating freshmen into the college community can be tough.
To meet that challenge, Villa Julie College recently inaugurated an orientation program, "The Freshman Connection." Administrators at the suburban commuter college say the program, which lasts two months, represents an unusual approach to bringing first-year students into the campus community and will ultimately lead to a lower freshman dropout rate.
"Unless new students feel they're a part of the campus community, they won't succeed," said Christine Noya, assistant dean of the four-year liberal arts college on Green Spring Valley Road in Stevenson. "The purpose of 'The Freshman Connection' program is to make them feel they're part of the Villa Julie community."
The heart of the program is a series of eight informal meetings. Once a week, a group of 10 to 15 freshmen, a faculty adviser and an upperclassman meet for an hour to focus on strategies aimed at helping the students achieve success in college.
For example, the students learn about a wide range of clubs, athletic games, social and cultural events, and lectures available at Villa Julie.
"Because we're a commuter campus, we introduce the freshmen to on-campus activities to get them involved," said Claire Moore, Villa Julie's director of student activities. "The goal is to make them feel they're part of the scene."
The program is consistent with Villa Julie's philosophy of offering a "total quality education," Ms. Moore added. "Academics and social life all go together to ensure academic success. You can't be successful if your life is messed up."