FYC decision detrimental to freshman experience, breaks trust with student leaders

In an announcement to student pre-orientation leaders, the First Year Center made it known that for the upcoming year they plan to cut any pre-orientation program that does not have 20 students signed up by June 15, 2016. The FYC also mandated five additional meetings for program leaders, asking leaders to provide more time and energy to plan a program that, in the end, may not happen at all. We at Student Life can’t help but wonder why the FYC is going to such great lengths to limit student experience, something that the center supposedly champions.

The new restrictions on pre-orientation programs hurt the new student experience by greatly limiting the scope of campus involvement new students are exposed to—as nine of 17 pre-os fell below the 20 student threshold this last summer—and putting the undue burden on new students that may sign up for a program that never happens at all.

We are left wondering what will happen to students who buy plane tickets to campus and pay for other expenses ahead of time and then are forced to cancel when their pre-o is cut. When asked about students having already bought plane tickets, FYC Programs Coordinator Andrea Farnan said, “I feel like that’s really hypothetical.”

Additionally, an unreasonable financial burden is placed on new students because larger pre-o’s (e.g. LAUNCH, Wilderness Project) are on average 70 dollars more expensive. The participant cut-off rule would then limit the cheaper options for new students to get to campus early and meet their new classmates. While the FYC says they will offer more scholarships for pre-os because of the cuts, those scholarships will go to the larger pre-o’s that will become unreasonably more competitive.

This is not to say that larger programs do not provide valuable experiences; they certainly do, and as the FYC points out, they have received stellar student satisfaction ratings over the past five years. In the days since the announcement, the FYC has continually harped on the lack of student satisfaction with the smaller pre-o programs, citing five years of survey data as the reason. Student Life obtained last year’s data from four of the under-20 programs, and they indicated that students were phenomenally satisfied. One of last year’s Freshman Press participants described the program, through the survey administered by the First Year Center, as “literally the best thing that’s happened to me in college so far. I wouldn’t have given it away for the world.”

These ratings are admittedly a spike from years past for many small groups, but they indicate an upward trend. The center complicated its own claim that small groups are less successful by describing groups of 15-30 people as “ideal for learning outcomes.”

Smaller programs are also ideal for more introverted students, who would have no interest in mingling with 100+ people their first few days on campus, and offer freshman participants the opportunity to forge multi-year bonds that run deeper than the occasional pre-o reunion.

To help programs reach the minimum participant threshold, the FYC recommends that programs combine with one another before the cancellation date based upon interest—e.g., Campus Comedy could perhaps combine with WU-SLam. This recommendation is a bad idea for a number of reasons, including but not limited to the loss of autonomy on the part of program leaders and, for groups like WU-SLam, social activities like meals are intertwined with writing prompts geared toward small groups.

Yet, the FYC won’t let the programs attract new students on their own volition. Last year, the FYC suddenly decided to enforce a rule that groups were not allowed to advertise their programs individually over social media or otherwise. To placate unhappy program leaders, the FYC promised to promote programs struggling to reach their previous number of participants through the FYC’s Facebook page and class Facebook group. This “advertising” amounted to an over-simplified quiz entitled “What Pre-Orientation Program is for you?” and a handful of images with captions highlighting smaller pre-os. Unlike the center initially promised, not every group that wanted advertising received it; Student Life provided the FYC with photos from the 2014 installation of Freshman Press via email and received no response.

If the First Year Center actually cares about the first year experience, it needs to preserve and value what small programs have to offer.