Let’s really welcome our freshmen this fall

The Class of 2020 will not enjoy the final few rites of passage linked to the senior year of high school.

No prom. No special senior day. No graduation.

Thanks, coronavirus.

Whether the stereotype of the moody teenager is garbage or linked to reality, let’s admit that if he or she is supposed to graduate high school in a few weeks then disappointment is palpable. (Yes, college students who are supposed to graduate soon feel much the same, but there’s a difference between disappointment at 18 years old and disappointment at 22.)

Couple those negative feelings of what has been lost with the deep uncertainty of the family’s health and financial situation, and with a lack of clarity as to how their first year of college might go and you have…an opportunity?

If you work in higher education, yes. Yes, you do.

America’s college and universities must roll out the extra red carpet for the Class of 2024. The powerful academic literature about persistence and retention reminds us that the initial year of college is incredibly valuable. Success in the freshmen year sets the stage for returning for the sophomore year, and for more success and so on.

I believe America’s colleges and universities must ensure their incoming freshmen feel welcomed and engaged; it’s more critical this fall than it’s been in more than a decade. Those aforementioned negative feelings must be flipped so that the initial year of higher education has the potential for success. Critics might argue I’m suggesting pampering or babying. Nonsense. We have the chance to make a difference at a time when many of those young men and women need to feel safe, welcomed and positive.

Consider the possibilities:

1. Intensive faculty-student mentoring;

2. Akin to the Olympics, academic and athletic freshmen competitions;

3. Required mental health check-ins (with apologies to the campus counseling center, which already is understaffed and overworked);

4. Practical life-preparation exercises (i.e. understanding the consequences of running up credit card debt);

5. Freshmen-only “Thera-pet” and similar relaxation opportunities;

6. A gift certificate to the university’s bookstore;

7. Freshmen Ted Talks (let’s hear the most powerful stories from these young men and women);

8. Mascot photo day;

9. Social media tips and tricks;

10. Freshman hike or other outdoor activity near the campus.

This is nowhere close to a comprehensive list and some of these might already be offered on your campus. (If you want to offer another idea, please do so in the comment box below.)

My point: If we can flip the “down” mental switch many of our freshmen might still be feeling when they get to campus to the “up” position, we’ve nudged those students forward.

Let’s get to work.

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