Published: Nov. 2, 2016
Students sit in a small class discussion

With an eye toward expanding the undergraduate academic experience, the University of Colorado Boulder has embarked on a plan that includes piloting innovative freshman seminars and interest groups to create student cohorts with common interests and higher education goals.

As part of the plan, three residential academic programs (RAPs) with lower student enrollment will transition into freshman interest groups (FIGs) and other new first-year programs. They include the Leadership, the Sustainable by Design, and the Sustainability and Social Innovation RAPs. Students currently enrolled in the programs will see no change to their 2016-17 RAP experience. Program changes will not take place until fall 2017. As with any major change, there will be personnel impacts, and five staff positions associated with these RAPs will be eliminated effective in May 2017. The university hopes to identify positions on campus into which these staff members can successfully transition. 

The Ethnic Living and Learning Community, which was affiliated with the Leadership RAP, has been identified as in alignment with campus priorities and will continue.

A task force appointed by the Office of the Provost will evaluate the effectiveness and added value of the other 11 RAPs to students and their families. The multidisciplinary task force is expected to deliver its recommendations to the Office of Undergraduate Education by June 1. CU Boulder RAPs serve about 45 percent of all freshmen.

“At the heart of this effort is our desire to improve the academic experience for all freshmen at CU Boulder and to improve retention and graduation outcomes,” said Provost Russell Moore. “I look forward to the task force’s report, its recommendations, and our ability to come together to support all of our students.”

Along with this review, the campus this spring will launch the first phase of a new First-Year Seminar Program with the introduction of 32 seminars. Limited to 19 students each, the seminars will enable freshmen to select from a variety of topics taught by a faculty member and a peer assistant. The seminars will revolve around high-impact learning models that include extended projects, presentations and collaboration.

Registration for the seminars opened Monday, Oct. 31. Each topic will have its own section number. Students who are interested in enrolling in the program can talk to an advisor for more information or search for FYSM 1000 when they register for spring classes through MyCUInfo.

Students who enroll in the program will share a common interest in a specific topic so they can enhance their academic networks – a key component to student success, said Associate Vice Provost for Student Success Paul Chinowsky, who is spearheading the effort and will chair the RAPs Task Force.

“Whether it is music, math or an interest in Shakespeare, first-year seminars are intended to be a gateway to building a student’s path to success,” Chinowsky said. “They will create opportunities for engagement with faculty who have directly designed them to personalize the academic experience for students. The seminars may even turn out to be the first step for a student to select a major if they have not yet done so.”

FIGs, which have been shown to be very effective at retaining students, are gaining in popularity at other universities. They are living communities of 40 to 50 students enrolled in two to three common courses during their first year of college and who participate in faculty-guided discussions and activities. CU Boulder faculty will design the FIGs and will begin piloting two of them next fall, Chinowsky said.

RAPs, meanwhile, will continue to provide first-year students living in residence halls with opportunities to learn in a “small college” environment within the larger university community, and maintain their focus on major fields of study such as communication, business, and the health professions.

“Through deep collaboration with faculty and staff, these efforts will ensure that all of our students have access to high-quality first-year programs,” Provost Moore said. “Our students are not all the same and their choices for a great first-year experience shouldn’t be, either. This plan will give students more choices, allow the university to explore innovative programs, and help us envision a more efficient use of resources.”