“Record Level of Stress Found in College Freshmen,” a front-page New York Times article on January 27 outlined new discoveries about the evolution of first-year students’ mental health since 1985. Attributing the increase of stress to the recession, a study, “The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2010,” discovered women held a less positive view of their emotional health than men. On a whole, the percentage of students who said their emotional health was above average fell, while those saying their emotional health was below average rose.
Southern has several programs that help freshmen and incoming students acclimate to their first year of college and educate them about their health.
First Year Experience
Southern’s First Year Experience helps freshmen maneuver their first year of college with an extensive freshman orientation; Southern Mentors, a student mentor program; and Southern Connections, a class that helps students acclimate to college.
During orientation, freshmen receive an introduction to university life and experience the social, spiritual, and academic programs Southern offers. They meet deans, teachers, advisers, and fellow students who help them feel comfortable before classes begin. Orientation also helps students navigate campus resources by directing new students to career counseling, student finance counseling, disabilities testing, and more.
Through the Southern Mentors program, freshmen are connected with another student who has been at Southern at least a year. Mentors are usually part of the same school or department as their mentees and they attend Southern Connections classes as well as plan worships and social activities with their groups.
Southern Connections is an in-depth orientation class for freshmen that emphasizes the development of critical and creative thinking skills within the context of the student’s chosen area of study. The Southern Connections professor and the class’s student mentor work together to help freshmen through their first-semester hurdles.
“Freshman seminars have been linked with increased success in many areas—especially social and academic success,” says Renita Klischies, Southern’s First Year Experience coordinator. “We’ve seen a lot of success from the Southern Connections classes—namely, increased freshman retention. The classes and the First Year Experience program as a whole help freshmen confront issues that could be causing them a great deal of stress.”
More than 80 schools, including Southern, use the survey system called MAP-Works to help identify first-year students’ academic and socio-emotional success and increase retention.
“The MAP-Works survey is a rather extensive survey that queries students about their expectations coming into college and also about areas in which they may be having difficulties,” says Volker Henning, associate vice president for Academic Administration.
Southern administers the survey to freshmen at the end of their first three weeks in college and follow-up surveys are given throughout the year. The reports can be viewed by the student, his or her Southern Connections professor, and his or her adviser. Often, if MAP-Works finds that students are at risk for leaving, their Southern Connections professors or advisers can direct them to the help they need.
Wellness Week, held November 15-20, is an annual event that brings awareness to students about stress reduction and healthy living. Campus Ministries hosts a high-traffic booth outside the student center, giving students information, vitamins, smoothies, free massages, and hammocks so they can take naps.
Life Groups connect students who want to pray and study the Bible together. Through fellowship, the groups provide students with a Christ-centered social outlet and a break during their busy weeks.
Based on recent retention rates, it would appear that Southern is succeeding in making the transition to college easier for incoming students. Since 2007—when the dropout rate was 11.6 percent—Southern has seen an increase in freshman retention, with this semester’s dropout rate reduced to 7.6 percent. More students are currently enrolled than ever before during a winter semester.
“Southern has been very intentional with our efforts to retain students, especially freshmen, and to educate them about physical, spiritual, social, and mental health,” says Marc Grundy, associate vice president for Marketing and Enrollment. “Along with our many programs, there is a collective effort among the faculty to advise and care for our students.”