The University of Michigan will make several adjustments in the coming years that build on its commitment to provide the approximately 6,600 first-year students who arrive on campus each fall with the skills and resources to be successful at U-M and beyond.

The Division of Student Life, in partnership with academic units, has a wide array of workshops, courses and community-building activities — each with the focus of helping students gain the skills for academic success, develop sustainable and healthy relationships and engage with diverse learning communities.

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Over the next year, Student Life will implement several efforts to improve student engagement in its first-year experience curriculum and communities, including a shift to a winter recruitment practice that will include all Greek Life organizations beginning in January 2020.

The work is part of a five-year plan to strengthen the first-year experience for students on the Ann Arbor campus, and supports the unit’s strategic plan for diversity, equity and inclusion.

“We invite remarkable students to join our community and we want to be sure we offer them a best-in-class first-year experience to help them make a successful transition to college, reach their full potential and thrive,” says E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life.

“This requires that we look at everything we are doing to assess, refine and expand our first-year experience curriculum and communities to ensure we honor our commitment to academic excellence.”

Key focus areas for strengthening the first-year curriculum and communities include:

• Expanding Michigan Living and Learning Communities — such as those that focus on health sciences or the arts — across more schools and colleges.

• Increasing student access to Making the Most of Michigan, the seven-week, goal-setting course taught in the residence halls, by expanding it from a handful of residence halls to all residence halls.

• Prioritizing the University Career Center’s programs devoted to helping first-year students begin their professional journey.

• Developing more theme communities in the residence halls tailored to student interests, needs and diverse backgrounds. U-M already has, for example, theme communities for first-generation students and students passionate about innovation and entrepreneurism.

National studies show that students engaged in first-year experience activities are more successful than their peers who do not participate in these types of programs. Studies also show they have more positive relationships with faculty, are more knowledgeable about and make better use of campus resources, and exhibit better time-management skills.

“We are prioritizing and coordinating outreach efforts, activities and events from pre-arrival through the first semester to maximize student engagement in first-year experience curriculum and communities,” Harper explains.

One key strategy to strengthening first-year student engagement is adjusting to a winter timeline for recruitment of first-year students by fraternities and sororities beginning in January 2020, a practice that includes 2,000 students annually.

The change will apply to first-year students and require that they must have earned 12 credit hours at U-M and be in good academic and behavioral standing to participate in Greek Life recruitment.

“We have studied the impact of recruitment practices on first-year students in the first semester on campus and determined that adjusting the timeline to winter semester supports first-year student success by providing the opportunity to fully engage in curriculum and communities,” Harper adds.

A transition team representing the Greek Life community and chaired by Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones will be created to identify key considerations and make recommendations for implementing the change.

“In partnership with our Greek Life community student leaders, we are committed to working together to develop an implementation plan that ensures this recruitment timeline adjustment strengthens our entire community,” Jones says.

Other efforts to enhance first-year student engagement include:

• Expanding the Intercultural Development Inventory pilot, an assessment and educational program geared toward helping students build intercultural competence, to the College of Engineering, Rackham Graduate School, School of Education and School of Kinesiology.

• Offering new community immersion programs during the first semester to provide outings for students in Washtenaw County to learn about their surrounding community and meet new people.

• Expanding the First Ascent program, which includes incoming students in outdoor adventure programming before school starts.