Sophomore Retention: A Growing Trend?

Posted by Raymond Pun on 1/16/18 9:36 AM

First Year Experience

soph.jpgFirst Year Experience programs have been shown to improve student success—but what about the following year? After completing their first year, sophomores may still struggle (commonly refered to at "the sophomore slump"), but they won’t have the same FYE support structure. This is something to consider as many universities have focused on FYE programs, but have neglected to develop a strategy to retain students in their second year, another critical period in the academic journey.

Last month, I attended a professional development webinar called “Sophomore Retention, Challenges, Programming & Assessment” by Dr. Dale R. Tampke, Associate Vice President from Texas Woman's University. The webinar was hosted by Innovative Educators, and provided food for thought on this area that I was not familiar with.

Tampke highlighted the unique issues that sophomore students may face:

  • struggling to declare their majors
  • deciding their level of campus involvement
  • experiencing decreased motivation
  • feeling dissatisfaction with their institution

He then reviewed various retention theories, and explained how they encourage and foster retention from organizational and psychological perspectives. Retention programs can involve many commitments and activities including student engagement, institutional responsibility, and/or cost-benefit analysis, etc.

Based on several research literatures, Tampke provided a list of institutional recommendations and initiatives to support sophomore retention:

  • Create sophomore success initiatives / sophomore year experience programs (SYE) – connect sophomores to faculty in meaningful ways and build a community in and out of the classroom that allows students to feel connected on campus
  • Undergraduate research – encourage teaching faculty to integrate more learning opportunities for second year students to conduct research in their fields
  • Targeted academic advising – intentionally help students when they are selecting or changing majors, or readjusting to the campus environment after the first year
  • Career development opportunities – create and support internships/student employment that include community-based learning or alumni engagements and connections

Institutionally, Tampke suggested that universities could plan to create an institution-wide task force on the SYE and survey current offerings. The task force should also identify the needs of sophomores as well as institutional resource/service gaps, and how to meet those needs through assessment. Tampke recommended mixed methods research to collect data about the experiences of second year students through focus groups and surveys, and forming partnerships with institutional research offices to uncover benchmarks for future programs to address.

The webinar gave me some new thoughts to consider as an FYE librarian. Here are some activities I’ve been experimenting with:

  • Partnering with career centers to offer career research workshops and services - You may also think about how subject/liaison librarians can offer support for career counselors and academic advisors about the different types of resources available for specific majors. This collaborative effort may align library services and resources with existing campus programs; academic librarians can also serve as mentors and advisors for second year students based on their majors and research interests.
  • Supporting undergraduate research and relationships – FYE librarians can serve as the mediator for first year students approaching their sophomore year, and subject/liaison librarians, in fostering research opportunities to enhance these students’ academic experiences. As an FYE librarian, I have introduced some of my former students to their new liaison librarians as a way of reinforcing students’ positive relationship with the library.
  • Creating instructional scaffolding resources for second year students – Consider working with teaching faculty to create information literacy modules that move beyond first year research basics but emphasize disciplinary approaches and advanced search strategies in subject databases. Those who are FYE librarians may want to partner with subject librarians and teaching faculty to build on these efforts.

In addition to the first year, the second year can also be critical period for student success. This essay from Inside Higher Education captures interesting points in supporting the sophomore experience as well. Hopefully these suggestions may offer you a different perspective on the sophomore experience!

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