For 40 years, USC’s U101 has stressed freshman success


USC’s U101 program has a track record of success in helping new students. But it’s still just an option, and that means some students remain ambivalent about it. (Above – a page from one of the workbooks to help students organize their time.)

By Brantley Fortenberry
July 9, 2013

USC freshmen have a decision to make – to take or not to take University 101.

Now 40 years old, U101 has been recognized as one of the most successful programs for first-year college students in the nation.  Almost 75 percent of freshmen enroll in U101, and USC statistics show that students who take U101 are 3.6 percent more likely to stay and graduate within five years of enrollment.

But there also remains a certain ambivalence about it because it is not a required course.

Hannah Jeffrey, who was a freshman last year, took it and says others should too. But J.D. Brooks, also a freshman, says he thought it would be “useless” and avoided it, although now Brooks says he wished he had taken the class after seeing what his friends gained from it.

“I feel like I would have made better connections within the campus and had a higher GPA for sure,” he said.

U101 is the only class that is not required but is pushed and highly recommended at freshmen orientation and registration. Tricia Kennedy, the program’s peer leader coordinator, said she does not want to see the class required for freshman.

Listen to J.D. Brooks talk about wishing he had taken U101.Listen to Tricia Kennedy describe the course’s benefits.

“Students who elect to take the course versus students who are mandated to take the course bring a different attitude and energy,” Kennedy said. She said she thinks the program’s success comes from the willingness of the students who take it and that those are the ones who see the benefits.

The sense of belonging is one of the biggest benefits Kennedy said she sees when she looks at assessments of U101 as well as examples from students.

“On a campus this large, students need a place to connect with their peers, a faculty member and find their place on campus, and I think that’s one of the things we do best in the program,” Kennedy said.

Neil Amin, a freshman who took U101 in fall 2012, says it helped him meet new people and learn about new resources on campus. Brittany Mackey echoes that and says it’s a good boost to a student’s grade point average booster. Alexa Angelus made a close friend, Maria Arriviello, in her U101 class and still does things with her weekly.

Some first-year programs, like that at North Carolina’s Campbell University, are structured closely to USC’s. But  Campbell’s Freshmen Seminar has one curriculum for all incoming freshmen.

USC broke from that model about five years ago and now lets each instructor build his or her own syllabus based on the U101 program’s learning outcomes.

Students who don’t want a general-education U101 now can enroll in one specific to their intended major. For instance,  a journalism student can enroll in a journalism section and will interact only with other journalism students and with  a teacher who advises or teaches other journalism courses.

The ultimate goal of U101 is to encourage student success and retention. Students taking U101 might hear a speaker talk about sexual health. Or they might have career and resume building workshops.

Download a PDF copy of Hunter’s article.Take a quiz on U101 trivia.

“Success cannot be defined or benchmarked by any one single marker, success involves the whole student and is multidimensional,” Mary Stewart Hunter, administration director at USC’s National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience, wrote in the summer 2008 edition of Peer Review.

U101 also emphasizes community service and “beyond-the-classroom” experiences, whether that be having dinner at a professor’s house, attending a show or going to the zoo as a class.

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