North Arkansas College president Dr. Randy Esters told the college Board of Trustees last week that enrollment is down this year, but a new course is being offered to help make a positive impact on enrollment in the future.
Esters said head count was down about 140 students for the fall semester. That will have a budgetary impact, but he felt that can be addressed internally.
He went on to say there is a state-wide trend in declining enrollment, at least partially because unemployment in the state is virtually non-existent. “As people go to work, they’re not going to school,” Esters said. “And quite frankly I’d really rather have a strong economy for our community than I would have a busting enrollment.”
He explained that college staff began a couple of years ago discussing offering a first year experience, or FYE, course for incoming students. He then introduced English instructor Kim Brooks, who is teaching the first-ever FYE course this fall.
Brooks agreed with Esters that enrollment is a problem, but not unique to Northark.
“It’s a problem that’s growing among the college community, like Dr. Esters said, for a good reason,” Brooks told trustees. “But another issue tied with that is if we get them in the doors, how do we keep them? We need to keep them.”
More than 2,700 two- and four-year colleges are now offering an FYE class. She displayed a catalogue that offers more than 1,900 books that colleges across the country are using in their classes in the 2019-20 year.
“This isn’t something new,” she said.
Those courses are designed to address the missing pieces some students lack when they begin higher education and could lead them to leave after that first semester.
Although the course does cover study skills, that wasn’t the primary goal. One of the big items covered is self assessing to determine how successful a strategy proved to be.
Maybe they do poorly on a test even though they read the material covered, so they decide to just read harder for the next test and the results are the same. Self assessment can lead to changing those tactics.
The course also covers things some older individuals don’t even consider, such as writing a check to pay bills or addressing an envelope in a world where those skills are less and less demanded.
The course also covers career aptitude.
Some students enter college with a specific goal in mind, like becoming a nurse or an accountant or a lawyer. When they find out there are courses that aren’t what they expected, they have to be able to see the other peripheral careers available.
Although the course is geared to success in college, it also helps to increase rates of success in life.
Many people have had instruction from parents about how to handle the small setbacks that can lead to bigger problems later. For instance, what do you do if you have a flat tire or aren’t doing well in a course or might be struggling with a personal matter?
She said some people have natural coping strategies and she had assumed her students did as well. But then a student went to her and said he couldn’t make it to class because he had a flat tire.
“And I’m thinking, well, you know, there are other options out there,” Brooks told the board. “But my students didn’t see any other options. Flat tire? They were stuck. Failed the first test? They were stuck.”
That she said opened her eyes to the fact that they weren’t taught those coping mechanisms that she was with the benefit of a family who taught her.
Classroom work has included a scavenger hunt to get students all over campus, places like the learning resource center they might not otherwise visit even though it would be beneficial.
It introduces them to different people on campus because research has shown students tend to be more successful when they are more familiar with staff, faculty and other students.
The course is designed for those incoming freshmen seeking degrees, not those seeking certificates.