News will publish a series of articles this summer about
recent changes at UNM made to boost retention and create
a "freshman experience," a holistic approach
to assist students entry into college life. Numbers
show that the programs work. UNMs 88.2 retention
rate this past spring is the highest midyear number
since the University started tracking freshman performance.
The first semester grade-point average for freshmen
rose from 2.57 in 1997 to 2.84 in 2001.
fall, University College will enroll perhaps its largest
class ever -- 2,800 students, more than half of whom
will be in a program aimed at improving their chances
communities help retain, engage freshmen
outcomes spell success: Self-awareness, understanding, community
competency, engagement, subject-related outcomes and skills.
Combined, these components are at the core of the freshman learning
communities at UNM.
to provide a special learning atmosphere for incoming freshmen,
the communities are comprised of 22 students who enroll together
in two or more classes taught by tenured faculty. One course
is a seminar with a theme such as Privacy in a Technological
World or Working with Children, Youth and Families.
Each seminar is linked to a course in Freshman English or Public
Speaking. Faculty coordinates the coursework.
and a half years ago President Gordon decided that one of his
highest priorities was to improve undergraduate education at
UNM. He told the Board of Regents that he wanted to increase
our retention and graduation rates, said Peter White,
dean of University College.
spoke to a lot of experts in higher education like Vincent Tinto
from Syracuse University who is well known for his book on student
retention. With the advice of numerous people, I came to President
Gordon with the idea of freshman learning communities.
Gordon basically said go for it. The first year
we had four freshman learning communities. Last year we had
17 and this year we are going to have 20, White said.
to the learning communities, three other specially developed
programs for freshmen are designed to offer extra learning and
support: Freshman interest groups, living and learning communities
and the summer academy of excellence.
with the freshman learning communities, Ive been working
with the other deans, especially Arts & Sciences Dean Reed
Dasenbrock, to improve the way we teach our lower level classes,
White said. After doing a years worth of research
and analyzing why students are leaving UNM, we discovered that
theyre leaving not because they dont like UNM, but
because they are failing some classes.
are failing the classes because of a lack of preparation, classes
are too big and impersonal, the teachers are often graduate
students or part-time teachers and the students dont have
that introduction to college that many other universities provide.
That introduction is called a freshman experience,
success partially accounts for an 88.2 percent retention rate
this past spring, the highest midyear retention rate since the
University started keeping records of freshman performance.
Maybe more significant is the fact that this January, when the
Lottery Success Scholarships were awarded to first-year students,
70 percent of the 2,023 eligible students earned lottery scholarships
by achieving a 2.5 grade-point average in 12 or more completed
hours in the first semester, which is up from 53 percent just
four years ago and seven percent from the previous fall. Additionally,
the first semester grade-point average for freshmen has risen
from 2.57 in 1997 to 2.84 in 2001, White says.
primary commitment is to our students and their success,
President Gordon said. To that end, we have created a
freshman experience that will enable students to be successful
in their academic career. Freshman learning communities foster
a strong and supportive foundation on which first-year students
can build their higher education experiences at UNM.
of the program is dependent on a number of factors ranging from
upper level administration, faculty involvement, as well as
coordinated efforts between the Development Office at UNM and
the business community, which contributes to the Presidents
Fund for Academic Excellence through the Presidents Club.
is a group of individuals intent on making a difference at UNM
through their financial gifts.
Presidents Club grew out of a meeting between a group
of business leaders, President Gordon and his key staff members,
said Doug Brown, club chairman and president and chief executive
officer of the Tuition Plan. It became apparent that there
is very little general discretionary money for the president
to spend. In Santa Fe theyll allocate certain amounts
of monies for certain purposes, but as far as starting up a
new initiative of some kind, it is very limited.
business community here recognizes that UNM is... an important
economic influence vital to the health of the business community.
We wanted to do what he could do to build more affinity, particularly
within the freshman class, Brown said.
The gifts support the Presidents Fund for Academic Excellence
and are dedicated to unrestricted presidential initiatives/programs
that may not receive traditional funding.
funds allow us to try things, to be innovative, to go a step
beyond the traditional modes of education, Gordon said.
is tremendous potential for the business community to realize
significant returns on investments they make in these programs.
Programs such as the freshman learning communities
cultivate successful students who upon graduation from UNM are
productive citizens and leaders in our communities.
is community involvement vital to the support of the program,
but so is the buy-in from the participants including
the professors who teach the courses. Kristin Umland, who has
taught math for six years at UNM, will begin her first semester
with the FLC next fall and jumped at the opportunity to become
a part of the program.
a wonderful idea, Umland said. I think anytime you
link ideas across disciplines its a good idea. Its
good for the instructors to think about their field in relation
to another field and to get out there and see what other faculty
members are doing. The value in that alone is very high. Of
course I wouldnt be doing it if it wasnt great for
believe in the freshman learning communities and all the instructors
I have talked to really believe in it and that helps with the
success of the program if the faculty involved are committed
to it and think that its a great thing.
arent the only individuals involved with the education
who is the assistant director of Education Programs and Services
at the UNM General Library, is one of 17 librarians who will
be involved in 20 different classes next fall.
freshman learning communities promote success among freshmen
by giving them experience they wouldnt normally see until
they were an upperclassman, Emmons said. Freshman
students need to know how to find, evaluate and use information.
Since it meshed so well with the freshman learning communities,
we offered our services. The library component is valued by
both faculty and students.