First years falling behind

In January, the dean of arts office at Wilfrid Laurier University collected data regarding first years students’ marks after their first semester and discovered that 39.7 per cent of students entering straight from Ontario high schools obtained below a 5.0 grade point average (GPA). This is approximately a four per cent decrease from last year, but in the university’s eyes it is still alarmingly high.

In order to help these struggling students get back on track, the faculty of arts sent emails inviting them to information sessions. Of the roughly 400 students invited, only 80 attended.

“[This] is an early warning signal … if this is their grade by the end of the year, they will not be able to progress in a declared major,” explained dean of arts, Michael Carroll. For these students to progress into second year in an honours program, they will need to maintain at least a 5.0 GPA; if they go below a 4.0, they will be placed on academic probation.

Students in business and economics faired better last semester than those in the arts, but the percentage of students below a 5.0 rose from 9.2 per cent last year to 9.8 per cent this year.

Business students need to maintain a 7.0 GPA to stay in their program. William Banks, the acting dean of the School of Business and Economics, stated that the 9.8 per cent of students below a 5.0 is normal.

“I would be upset if it climbed much over ten per cent,” he stated.
Science students remain in the middle, with 25.4 per cent below a 5.0 GPA. Dean of science, Paul Jessop, also agreed this figure is normal, but still higher than the faculty would like.

Carroll, Banks and Jessop all agreed that the performance of first year students correlates with the entrance averages for their respective faculties.

“The lower your high school grades, the more likely you are to end up in this situation,” explained Carroll.

Ray Darling, WLU’s registrar, echoed Carroll’s statement, “There is no question there is a correlation there between your high school average and your GPA at university.”

Darling also explained that entrance averages have been lowered in past years due to supply and demand, as well as financial reasons. With more students leaving high school, universities have to start making room for them.

“The cut-off itself has gotten lower in the last two years compared to where it would have been ten years ago,” said Darling.

The cut-off average for first years entering arts in September was 72 per cent, whereas BBA students were cut off at 86 per cent. Jessop explained that the cut-off for science depends on what program students are applying to, with the lowest being 74 per cent.

In an attempt to lower the number of struggling students, the arts department made the decision to raise the entrance cut-off average to 74 per cent.
“The concern with the first-year experience has become a priority in the faculty of arts,” added Carroll.

He also explained many new initiatives the faculty is taking to ensure student success within arts. Peer mentoring programs, such as BOOST mentoring program, will continue to run, but new programs, such as first-year seminars and learning communities within residence, are completely new.

Carroll explained there is “large literature which suggests that these [programs] have a great effect, not just in the class itself, but in subsequent classes [on the students].”

Carroll also stated the arts department is launching a new program next year: Laurier Arts Scholars. “It’s a program designed to attract high achieving students,” he explained. “It won’t make Laurier unique, but it’s never existed here before until now.”

Banks stated there aren’t many tutoring programs for BBA students, because there are very few who are struggling.

“Business students are set up for success,” he explained. “It’s [a result] of outstanding students coming into the program, and they’re outstanding in the sense that they’re already driven to succeed.”

Jessop explained there are efforts being made to help students within science succeed, especially those taking required math courses. “When math is a required course, [students] tend to struggle.”

To help struggling students with math, extra labs and tutoring sessions are offered, as well as remedial summer courses.

Each dean and the academic advisor for arts, Julie Pong, all believe that students are not struggling based on academics alone.

“Every student is different,” explained Pong. “They all have different situations [and] it is mostly about figuring out a plan of action for each student.”

Jessop identified a variety of reasons students may be struggling, including homesickness, not caring enough, or just too much socializing.

Despite the reason, Pong advises struggling students to recognize when they need help.

“There are so many people on this campus that want to help students [succeed].”

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