Local governments can invest in this strategy using State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

  • This strategy can help address educational disparities. The U.S. Department of Treasury has indicated that strategies that help achieve this outcome are eligible for the use of Fiscal Recovery Funds.
  • Investments in this strategy are SLFRF-eligible as long as they are made in qualified census tracts or are designed to assist populations or communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

Program overview

  • Easing the transition into college: First year experience courses, also called college success courses or freshman seminars, are courses designed to prepare first-year students for their transition into postsecondary education. By better supporting students as they enter college, these courses aim to improve students’ academic achievement, college persistence, and degree attainment.

  • Varied approaches used across institutions: Common at both two-year and four-year colleges, first year experience courses may be part of an orientation program or full, credit-bearing courses that take place during the regular academic year. At some institutions, such courses are required for all first-year students, while at others, they may be targeted toward specific populations (e.g., academically underprepared students).

  • Offering academic supports: Typically, first year experience courses aim to improve students’ readiness for college-level coursework. Many first year experience courses include a focus on building skills, like study strategies, time management, and note-taking. Often, such courses also place a special emphasis on improving students’ writing and critical thinking abilities.

  • Introducing students to campus: As a student’s sense of belonging at their college is linked to their academic success, many first year experience courses aim to build a sense of community and connect students with campus resources. To strengthen the sense of community, courses may include structured opportunities for students to interact with faculty, staff, and their peers (e.g., a class dinner). Courses may also incorporate information, staff speakers, or visits to key campus resources, like career, health and wellness, or academic support services.

Cost per Participant
Not available

Multiple studies with rigorous designs provide some evidence for first year experience courses as a strategy for increasing academic achievement, credit accumulation, and postsecondary persistence.

  • Plan for small classes: First year experience courses aim to build a sense of connection between students and with faculty. As such, colleges should enroll twenty or fewer students in each course to allow for more relationship building opportunities. If a course is larger, creating sections within the course led by a faculty member or teaching assistant may offer similar benefits.

  • Offer training opportunities for instructors: Training for college professors typically focuses on research and not teaching. As first year students, in particular, may need additional academic support, professors and other college instructors may benefit from training opportunities focused on teaching first year students. Topics to address may include strategies for differentiating instruction, building students’ study skills, improving attendance, and more.

  • Identify a coordinator: As the approach used in first year experience courses differs from traditional college courses, colleges should identify a part- or full-time dean, director, or coordinator to manage first year experience courses. This individual can identify and train instructors, ensure course curricula match overall program objectives (e.g., addressing skill gaps), and manage the enrollment of students into first year experience courses.

  • Monitor student performance: By implementing a system to monitor students’ academic performance, colleges can identify students who may be at higher risk of not completing college. These students can then be offered additional support services. Common metrics used to assess students’ risk level include high school GPA, SAT/ACT scores, course placement results, attendance records, first semester grades, and more.