Changes encourage retention, commitment

By BenitaZepeda

Just as in years past, incoming freshman and transfer students starting in the 2010-2011 academic year will be required to attend new student orientation. However, this year the office of New Student Programs and Orientation has revamped orientation to tailor the experience to students’ individual interests and needs.

Emily Easton, director of New Student Programs and Orientation, said this year’s orientations, which begin July 18, will have new features geared not only toward students, but also parents.

“The theme of orientation this year is that we are looking at how to make it a more interactive process for students and parents,” Easton said. “It takes into consideration how they want to learn about Columbia.”

Easton said the orientations will now be conference-style, which will allow students and parents to choose what information sessions they would prefer to attend. The various sessions will be divided into different time blocks throughout the day.

The decision to change the format of orientation came from feedback the office received from students, faculty and focus groups the office hosted. Easton said the surveys are always positive, but there were ways to increase the amount of choices students have in the orientation process.

“We have made the sessions a little more specialized,” Easton said. “For instance, there are two different panels for financial services, depending on where the student and family are in the process. There are also panels just for transfer students, students planning on living in student housing and commuter students so that way we can make sure information is more tailored to what they need to learn about our community.”

In addition to the individual panels available to students, there will be activities only for parents, such as a mock first-year seminar course. The idea behind this is to provide parents a firsthand look at what types of experiences their child will have while attending Columbia.

This year, the college is also paying more attention to the differences between transfer students and first-year students. This starts with the initial materials about the college they receive through Welcome Week.

“There are events that are specifically tailored to students who may be new to Columbia, but not new to college,” Easton said.

The revamping of the orientation is also a way to keep retention and enrollment numbers up. As The Chronicle reported on Oct. 21, 2009, new student enrollment, which consists of freshmen, transfer, post-baccalaureate and new-students-at-large, was down 384 new students from the 2008-2009 academic year.

Murphy Monroe, executive director of Admissions, said that as of press time, it is too early to make projections about the incoming class or release any numbers about the application count for new students, but current numbers show an increase from last year.

“We are really pleased with both the application count of new students and the rate at which they are confirming their intent to enroll,” Monroe said. “In both categories, we are well ahead of where we were last year.”

As of May 3, 2009, the application count for new students was approximately 5,056, and 1,959 for transfer students, according to Monroe. He added he is cautiously optimistic about new student enrollment.

“We’re only about 60 percent through the cycle for recruiting new students for the fall, so it is too early to make a solid projection for the fall,” Monroe said. “We are feeling much better this time this year than we were at this time last year.”

Patrick Fahy, director of Admissions Recruitment, said admissions is optimistic about the rates of application, but those numbers aren’t solidified until students come and register at orientation. He added there have been changes in recruitment for students as well.

“There has been far more support in helping with scholarships and financial aid,” Fahy said. “We are acknowledging [how] important the money part is in choosing your school and ending up at school.”

Easton said the revamping of orientation and other initiatives catered toward new students will help get them to commit to Columbia and to stay

at Columbia.

“My colleague, Toni Fitzpatrick, has a great quote: ‘Orientation is like the first time you drive a car off the lot,’” Easton said. “As we start to look at the long-term ramifications of that first interaction, we just became aware of how carefully we needed to assess our efforts so that we made sure we were tweaking in all the right places.”