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UW-River Falls considers seminar to help freshmen acclimate to college

Falcon News Service

December 2, 2015

A new first-year seminar may be added to the UW-River Falls curriculum, according to Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Fernando Delgado.

The seminar would be meant to target first-year, undecided students at UWRF and include a broad overview of the options that are offered at the university. The course would be mandatory for undecided majors, and would act as an elective course lasting one semester, according to Academic Council Chair Peter Vermeland.

Although the specifics of what the seminar would include haven’t been decided, Vermeland said that members of the Academic Council and Student Senate already have an idea of what should be covered.

“Just get a feel for college, learning about the basics of finance, things that aren’t really covered in high school that really should be,” said Vermeland. “Sort of learning where you want to go.”

The possible first-year seminar is still in the very early stages of planning, Delgado said. He is working on a proposal that would then have to go through several committees before going to Faculty Senate for approval, Delgado added. The first-year seminar would then have to be approved by Chancellor Dean Van Galen for it to be in effect.

The goal of the seminar, Delgado said, would be to support, transition and academically challenge undeclared first-year students because they are an important group to develop and engage on campus.

“We’re all trying to get at how we improve learning on this campus, how do we improve retention and success on this campus,” Delgado said.

According to Delgado, retention rates are a key aspect when looking at adding a first-year seminar. Retention rate is the percentage of a university’s first-time, first-year undergraduate students who continue enrollment into the next year. In the fall of the 2014-2015 academic year, the retention rate for new freshman was 56 percent, around 590 students, according to the Office of Institutional Research.

Jasmine Lynn is a freshman biochemistry major at UWRF and said that she believes that a first-year seminar is necessary because some freshman don’t know what to expect when coming to college.

“I think it would be very informative, and it’s kind of a necessity, just because people come from different backgrounds and different areas, so they’re not always prepared for that kind of stuff,” Lynn said.

The majority of the universities in the UW-System have some form of a first-year seminar, ranging from one to three credits, according to the universities’ websites. All of the first-year seminar descriptions are pretty similar, focusing on transitioning students into university life and helping students achieve academic success.

According to Delgado, this is not the first time that UWRF has looked into creating a first-year seminar. During the 2014-2015 spring semester, the Faculty Senate voted on the addition of a first-year seminar to the general education curriculum. The seminar was introduced by Kristina Anderson, the former associate vice chancellor for enrollment and student success, and would have included all first-year students, regardless of if they had already declared a major. The proposal didn’t pass.

Delgado said that the recent budget cuts to the UW-System, including a $3.31 million cut to UW-River Falls, is always something to consider when looking to add curriculum.

“There’s always going to be intrinsic benefits if you help more students succeed, we get that,” Delgado said. “But we’re all struggling hard to ensure that all of our students succeed when we’re all challenged by budget cuts. And so then the question is, is that investment more impactful than the other investment that you could have made.”

Delgado said that he hopes to be able to have a first-year seminar proposal in front of Faculty Senate before the end of the semester. If passed, it would then go into effect in the fall of 2017.