In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Is First-Year Seminar Type Predictive of Institutional Retention Rates?
  • Dallin George Young (bio)

First-year seminars (FYS) are courses "intended to enhance the academic and/or social integration of first-year students" (Barefoot, 1992, p. 49). Colleges and universities initiate FYS to help first-year students develop a connection with the institution, provide orientation to campus resources and services, foster the development of academic skills, support the learning and developmental objectives of undergraduate education, and retain students from the first to second year of college (Greenfield, Keup, & Gardner, 2013; Young & Skidmore, 2019). Further, they form a connective thread for first-year experiences such as providing an orientation to campus resources, creating a sense of belonging, developing study skills, and serving as a curricular anchor for other high-impact practices (Greenfield et al., 2013; Young & Skidmore, 2019).

Frequently, FYS represent what has been termed an extended orientation course, usually named college survival or success (Greenfield et al., 2013; Hunter & Linder, 2005); however, multiple varieties of the form exist (Young & Skidmore, 2019). Barefoot (1992) outlined a scheme that persists as the most widely adopted typology of FYS: (a) extended orientation seminars, (b) academic courses with uniform content across all sections, (c) academic courses with content that varies across sections, (d) preprofessional or discipline-linked courses, and (e) seminars with a focus on basic study skills. Tobolowsky and associates (2008) described a sixth type, hybrid courses, combining elements of the other types.

The literature base is replete with evidence that FYS contribute to improvements in academic performance; interaction with faculty; use of campus services; satisfaction with the institution; active involvement in cocurricular activities; positive perceptions of self-as-learner; enhanced lifelong-learning orientation; and development of academic, interpersonal, and communication skills (see Koch, Foote, Hinkle, Keup, & Pistilli, 2007; Padgett, Keup, & Pascarella, 2013; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). Additionally, large-scale reviews of the published research on the effects of participation in FYS have indicated that FYS had at least indirect effects from the first to second year in college (Mayhew, Rockenbach, Bowman, Seifert, & Wolniak, 2016; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005; Permzadian & Credé, 2016). Notwithstanding these results, recent research has emerged that questions whether FYS have any effect at all on student success (Culver & Bowman, 2020).

The flexibility of the FYS to meet the needs of a wide variety of institutional contexts is a feature seen as part of its widespread success (Greenfield et al., 2013); however, the research record is unclear about which seminar types have greater impact on student outcomes. Some researchers found that extended orientation types are connected to improved outcomes (see Friedman & Marsh, 2009; Ryan & Glenn, 2004), while others point to the benefits of [End Page 379] academic seminars (see Swing, 2002; Zerr & Bjerke, 2016). Other studies have found mixed results in outcomes based on FYS type. Permzadian and Credé (2016) found that extended orientation seminars were positive and significant predictors of first-to-secondyear retention, and academic seminars were positive predictors of first-year GPA. Weissman and Magill (2008) reported that the benefits of one seminar type over another were related to the type of student who participated.

Confounding the interpretation of the opus of literature linking FYS type and student retention is the fact that the research on the topic comprises only single-institution studies and studies conducted at the student level. Only a limited number of studies have included the influence of institution-level characteristics on student retention or intent to persist. For example, Porter and Swing (2006) found that improved academic engagement in FYS at the institution level was associated with higher levels of students' intent to persist to the second year.


In 2008, the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) introduced a list of 10 high-impact practices (HIPs) that had been tested and found to have significant positive influence on student engagement and retention (Kuh, 2008), including FYS and experiences. Kuh and O'Donnell (2013) identified 8 elements of HIPs that explained the educational and pedagogical practices that led to the impact found in HIPs: (a) high performance expectations; (b) significant investment of time and effort by students; (c) interactions with faculty and peers about substantive matters; (d) experiences...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 379-390
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.