Retention of Freshmen and other Vulnerable Students

Experienced students have very different responses to stress and challenge compared to our more vulnerable students such as freshmen and first generation students. This page attempts to assemble some of the thinking and strategies that faculty have used to meet the needs of more vulnerable students. Some contradict each other, some you will probably disagree with, and all require time.

Contributors to this page include:

Amanda V.Christina B. LaChelle R.Michelle P.Scott W.
Amy C.Dawn L. Lauren C. Nancy L.Seth B.
Amy M.  Eric M.Leanne P.  Peter R.Sue H.
Angela W. Eric S.  Lorinda H.Rebecca S. Suzanne R.
Becky P. Jennifer G. Manee M. Renee H. Teresa C.
Brian S. Jill T. Marcy H. Sam C. Tessa J.
Carrie K. Ken W. Marlowe D.  Sarah G.Tirazheh E.
Celeste E. Kylee B.

Teaching Strategies

  • Ask in discussion/chat at the beginning of class.
  • Call individuals that are absent and ask how they are.
  • Survey students regularly and follow up with those that don't respond.

  • Discuss and explain rules, procedures, and expectations repeatedly through many different modes of communication.
  • Offer straightforward strategies for learning at a distance, such as this page for dual credit students (which bear some resemblance to first year college students).

  • Send text, phone call, email, Bb announcement, and/or calendar reminders for students that forget to hand in assignments.
  • Provide students with a checklist like this one.
  • Send students reminders/motivation emails. Some students like this, other are inundated.

  • Respond frequently and individually.
  • Record short Individual video responses to assignments (this can be quicker than written feedback, too).
  • Include students name in emails, and also maybe something about them that you can connect with, especially if the email is one reminding them of something they have forgotten to do.
  • Be as visible, welcoming, flexible, encouraging, approachable, and supportive as possible.

  • Build in well-being goals and assignments.
  • Connect students to campus support systems:
  • Help your students understand how being a part of the classroom community can support their well-being.
  • You are often the person that a student will trust to talk to, but faculty boundaries vary widely from person to person. If you are unable to support students directly when they come to you, do make a plan for how to direct students to the excellent peer counseling and other services on campus.

  • Give assignment choices.
    • If you have learning outcomes for your class, consider offering different ways that students can show you that they have met the outcome.
    • Help students understand different options and why they might choose each one through short introductory assignments or similar.
    • Try including group reports in your list of assessments if you don't do so already, especially if you are teaching remotely or by mixed-modality for cohort building.
    • Make sure you are set up to keep track of different submission and assignment choices, or it is easy to lose track of them. A spreadsheet is one way to keep track of students, notes about them, and how they are meeting objectives.
  • Select the most significant learning outcomes, and let the rest go, and let go of many expectations relating to community building and soft skills
  • Build in opportunities for students to stay connected to you and each other.

A motivating environment often has these elements which can be built into assignments and daily practices:

  • Autonomy: having some choice in assignments, activities, or way of engaging
  • Competence: having clear outcomes, and knowing how to succeed
  • Belonging: getting to work together, at least occasionally
  • Self-esteem: being able to grow and succeed
  • Enjoyment: having some opportunity for application of material, and fun

Contact Information

Center for Teaching and Learning

Meriwether Lewis Hall 320

500 8th Avenue

Lewiston, Idaho 83501