The Success of CHASS Connect

By Briana Van Havermaat, Student Intern of CHASS College Computing

Developed four years ago on the UCR campus, the CHASS Connect program has continued to have a significant impact on the academic performance of the University’s students. When the program was initiated in 2002, it was designed specifically to meet the needs of undeclared freshman, but over the years has grown to encompass the interests of freshman in all CHASS fields of study.

Students enrolled in the program participate in a year-long sequence which allows them to explore a common theme or idea over the course of the Fall, Winter, and Spring quarters. The students are exposed to several different disciplines to aid them in selecting a major. CHASS Connect students take classes with the same group of freshmen throughout the year, which allows them to exist within a smaller community at UCR. Peer mentors, all of whom are veterans of the CHASS Connect program, are assigned to students to provide help and support.

Recent studies show that CHASS Connect has had an enormously positive impact on student education at UCR. Retention (as measured by the number of academic quarters completed) is statistically significantly greater for CHASS Connect students than for the comparison group by between ten (2002) and six (2003) percent. CHASS Connect students are significantly more likely to pass the entry-level writing requirement (having not passed prior to admission at UCR) than the comparison group by eleven percent (2002 and 2003). Among students who have not declared a major prior to admission at UCR, CHASS Connect students declare a major sooner (in terms of quarters since admission) than the comparison group by between eleven (2002) and four (2003) percent. CHASS Connect students also have significantly higher grade point averages at UCR than the comparison group. This is true of the cumulative grade point average for all admitted students—by between seven (2002) and nine (2003) percent—as well as for students who have been present on campus continuously since admittance—by between three (2002) and four (2003) percent. The graph below illustrates the comparison of students in the 2002 and 2003 CHASS Connect programs with similar students outside the program.

These numbers compare the performance of a “typical student” when placed in different learning atmospheres. For example, we see that in 2002 98% of CHASS Connect students passed the writing requirement while the percentage of non-CHASS Connect students who passed was 88%. Associate Dean David Fairris, lead author of the study, concludes that the statistical results reveal that CHASS Connect does in fact make a difference in a student’s performance in school, proven by the all-around higher test scores and GPAs of CHASS Connect students.

Beginning in the 2006-2007 academic school year, “CHASS F1RST,” the new First-Year Experience program will implement the “Cingular effect.” This initiative will include two-3 course sequences, one 2-course sequence (running in Winter and Spring) and one single course, all of which will be based upon a single theme or idea. For example, a global studies themed curriculum might include an Anthropology course in the Fall, an English course in the Winter, and a Music course in the Spring. Political Science and History would make up the 2-sequence course, and the single course would be a gateway lecture, a single class with about 150 students.

CHASS Connect currently enrolls about 10% of the incoming freshman population. One of the program’s goals is to eventually accommodate at least 50% of the incoming students. CHASS Connect began as a small program, but its popularity soon grew and students had to be waitlisted in only its second year of operation. Students are currently admitted on a first come, first served basis.

Besides the statistical confirmation that CHASS Connect has a positive effect on the academic lives of students, the program offers support in the social and community aspects of college life as well. Geoff Cohen, the First-Year Experience Coordinator believes, “Community practices are an important benefit for students and the University.” Many Resident Advisors and Program Coordinators in the dormitories are CHASS Connect alumni. Several CHASS Connect alumni have also gone on to become active in Student Life and CHASS Student Affairs.

The initial goal of CHASS Connect was to aid in the success of freshman students at UCR. Thanks to the help and support of faculty and peer mentors, the program has grown and is continuing to work towards improving the performance of first-year students. The numbers show that CHASS Connect has had a significant impact on the retention rate, test scores, and GPAs of UCR students. The University will continue to benefit from a program that aids the often difficult transition from high school to college, a factor that often contributes to high dropout rates within universities. According to Cohen, “The success is seen in the fact that students are making progress and staying at the University all four years.”

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