A Policy Proposal for New Student Orientation and a Book Discussion Group: Strategies and Justifications

Matthew R. Shupp (2005)

edited 4/26/12

(A note to the reader:
The following is a possible agenda that would be used as a guide for a presentation to propose the policy. You will notice that the agenda focuses a great deal on the advocacy for the policy, rather than on an analysis of its implementation. An explanation for this rationale is made below.)


"The College will strengthen its ability to identify and set priorities for an effective response to the changing educational needs of its communities."- University X Strategic Plan 2004-2009, p. 41

Introduction and History of New Student Orientation at University X

Need for the Policy

National Resource Center (2005) research findings

Academic skill acquisition
Define specific skills
University X's Strategic Plan (2004-2009)

Increase in New Student Orientation attendance

     Decrease in student attrition over academic year

      Acceptance of under-prepared students

The Policy Proposal

Focus on on-going and continuous orientation program

Presentation of book during class registration and begin discussion during break-out groups during orientation

Continuation of program throughout student's first semester

Utilize book to:

Stimulate faculty / student dialogue
Increase student reading skill development
Assess New Student Orientation program at the completion of one year


Benefits of the Policy

Enhancement of an already favorable program at Orientation

Increase student critical thinking, social, and leadership skills

Increase faculty / student interaction

Increase academic component of orientation

Enhancement of faculty / student interactions


Cost of Implementation

Virtually none – student fee driven

Spending student fee money on academic materials for classroom use

Logistics of program built into Office of Student Life planning of program



University X (2005). Strategic Plan (2004-2009). Part III:

Restructuring for the future. Item K: Programs and Services: Additions, deletions, and improvements. Goal K1, p. 41. Retrieved October 21, 2005 from http://www.University X.edu/stafpage.

National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Student in Transition (2005).Retrieved October 21, 2005 from http://www.sc.edu/fye/research/surveyfinding/surveys/survey03.html.


The described proposal is for the development and implementation of the following policy:

A.)  All new students must attend University X's New Student Orientation programs;

B.) As part of this orientation process, students will participate in a book discussion throughout the course of their first semester.

At the present time, there is no policy in place that makes attending New Student Orientation mandatory. This policy would impact all new students who enroll at the College, and is based on a need due to a decrease in University X's student enrollments and an increase in dropout rates over the course of the academic year.


According to the National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition (2005), 65.2% of all schools surveyed indicate they offer extended and on-going orientation programs. Of these programs, nearly 80% offer academic seminars on various topics. In response to a survey distributed in 2003, students identified the development of academic skill as one of the most important skills acquired from these comprehensive programs.

University X is an urban community college located in one of the largest cities in the country. Servicing more than 40,000 a year, part of its mission is to give open access to the community members of which it serves. As part of University Xs Strategic Plan (2004-2009), the College will strengthen its ability to identify and set priorities for an effective response to the changing educational needs of its communities (p. 41). The need for this objective in the strategic plan has been illustrated through dramatic changes in the student body from semester to semester. Many do not realize that, for the past several years, the College has seen an increase in student enrollment and attendance at New Student Orientation programs, yet has witnessed a lack of retention of students, primarily African American men, over a full academic year (September – May). As University X has a policy of open enrollment, many of its students, whom matriculate from the Philadelphia public school system, are under-prepared for the rigors of college-level reading and writing skills, and having the inability to complete the developmental English courses is a primary reason for students lack of return for a second year.

Academic Affairs and Student Affairs at University X are collaborating to produce an on-going, educationally focused, comprehensive orientation program in order to assist with student retention rates. As part of this comprehensive orientation program, the implementation of the following policy is proposed: All new students will attend University Xs New Student Orientation Programs and will participate in a book discussion throughout the first semester. Students reading levels will be taken into consideration, and more than one book will be chosen to accommodate this need.

This new policy will be communicated to the new students and their families in the following way: After each new student completes the registration process on campus, he or she will receive the selected book and will be encouraged to complete the assigned reading in time for his / her specified orientation program. Available to all incoming students to University X, this years books were selected by the Orientation Planning Committee, consisting of faculty, administration, and students representing various constituents at the College. Nominations for the committee had been solicited from a variety of offices across campus, including 500 responses from previous first-year students that attended New Student Orientation in the spring.

The common reading experience is aimed at promoting the concept of University X students as a community of learners while bringing the students and faculty together for dialogue and debate. The books selected will provide students with a shared intellectual experience, will be centered on contemporary issues, and will have elements to which the readers can relate.

Depending on the academic level a student achieves during his or her placement test, the student is currently assigned to a particular curriculum as part of University Xs Educational Support Service Division. During New Student Orientation, students are divided into their assigned cohort and asked to dialogue with current students and staff from their particular program. It is during this time that the book discussion will be introduced. These cohorts currently continue throughout the academic year and, in the past, have served as mentoring opportunities for current students. The addition of an academic component in these cohorts is one way to address, in a non-threatening environment, the low-level reading comprehension skills of our students.


The start up cost of implementation of the program would be minimal. The Office of Student Life Programs, utilizing student fee generated funds, spent approximately $34,000 on food-related expenses during the one-day orientation events at University X in the 2004-2005 fiscal year. The $34,000 that is normally spent on bagged lunches for a single day event would cover the cost of the book purchase—academic tools that would be utilized for an entire academic year. Likewise, the Vice President of Academic Affairs supports the implementation of the policy whole-heartedly and has already promised additional funding to support this project. Additional staff and faculty time to lead the book discussions throughout the year would need to be considered.


Success stories of academic involvement taking place during orientation are numerous. Programs such as the Universitys Book Club, the Elementary School Volunteer Program, and the University Womens Center Focus Groups have indicated a pattern of extracurricular involvement in literacy programs. Although a retention-rate study of participants would strengthen the argument for the necessity of these programs, preliminary data suggests that the students involved in the above-mentioned programs are returning for a second year, in part, due to their extracurricular involvement.

Orientation evaluations from previous semesters have indicated that new students favorably rated the breakout sessions where they were able meet with current students and faculty from their specific program of study. There would be virtually no increase upon the workload of faculty involved with the orientation cohorts. The new policy would enhance an already favorable program by connecting visible disconnects between curricular (classroom) and co-curricular (orientation) programming. The implementation of this new policy may lead to an increase in students critical thinking skills, social skills, improved reading skills, student academic performance, and may lead to an increase in student retention over the course of the academic year. The introduction of the new policy is predicted to assist with the retention of the almost 3,000 students that attend New Student Orientation.

The new policy also aims to enhance student leadership skills by providing current students a mentoring experience by co-leading book discussions with faculty members. It intends to create a more-focused dialogue to an already important part of orientation. Faculty, by getting more heavily involved outside of the classroom setting, would also benefit from knowing that they were making a positive impact on students by enhancing their reading and writing skills.

With the introduction of an on-going weekly book discussion throughout the students first semester, a greater variety of programming opportunities can be provided for the students. The annual Film Series could include movies that share similar themes with the chosen books. Likewise, artwork, essay contests, and musical performances inspired by the books essence have the potential to be incorporated into Student Life programs. The faculty would choose topic areas and, thus, interaction would increase through the building of out-of-classroom experiences into syllabi.

This new policy could also be used as a marketing tool for University X. Although the stigma is changing, many community colleges across the country are still not considered real colleges. At University X, many of our students are often referred to as attending the 13th grade, indicating that their peers do not view attending a community college as a valid college experience. Implementing the new policy at University X would follow in the footsteps of many cutting-edge orientation programs at traditional, four-year institutions.

Analysis of the Presentation

Cost Versus Benefits

            The benefits of implementing this new policy well outweigh the costs. Obviously, data would need to be gathered to support this claim. However, for the sake of illustration, an informal cost / benefit analysis was performed with the help of a convenience sample of administrators in student affairs, comparing the perceived expected value (from 1 to 10, for values; probabilities, from 0.00 to 1.00) of each program, i.e. new policy vs. current program vs. not holding New Student Orientation. Expected values were as follows:

New Student Orientation Book Discussion Policy at University X = 8.63

New Student Orientation Without Intervention = 5.15

No New Student Orientation = 2.12

Further research providing details such as the number of participants, survey tools, and validity and / or reliability of the intervention will be needed and analysis of the effectiveness of the program could be studied over time. The inclusion of an executive summary at the completion of the period of study would certainly strengthen the policys impact.

Student frustrations with the program, and, as a result, possibly dropping out of University X, were not mentioned. Tuition loss due to the aforementioned issue and the policy possibly being a detriment to retention rates was also not discussed for obvious reasons. Finally, faculty unions negotiating extended time for out of class work was not mentioned, although it was included in the cost / benefit analysis as well as alluded to in the Cost section of the proposal.

Special Instructions

The President of University X charged both Academic Affairs and Student Affairs to produce an on-going, more comprehensive orientation program in order to assist with the need for student retention. As part of this comprehensive orientation program, in order to increase the collaborative component of the program, I have proposed the implementation of this policy. I have advocated for the policy to be accepted in this way so the faculty will buy into the program without feeling that their academic freedom during their first semester cohorts is being compromised. I also chose not to include that this proposal is in response to the President of University Xs wishes because I believe many faculty would feel that this was one more request dictated to them by the administration. It is my hope that the faculty will buy into the program without feeling like their hand is being forced.


This proposal is rooted in student retention literature. College and university campuses are the foundation on which students can grow and connect to reach his or her fullest ability, both in and outside of the classroom setting. The Wingspread Group of 1993 supported this claim by stating that professionals in higher education must make student learning a priority. Likewise, The Student Learning Imperative (American College Personnel Association, 1994) challenged professionals to reaffirm their commitment to student learning and development. Coming to college has become an organized adventure, with individuals strategically placed in students ways as to direct and guide their learning. This new policy is one such intentional program. Students may learn that the goal is to not only earn a degree, but to also take the opportunity and fully explore the possibilities that they have at University X. The policy also creates an opportunity for programs to be created around the nature of the chosen books to assist students at becoming well-rounded human beings.

Many students experience two separate, distinct aspects of the college experience. They experience traditional academic learning, which consists of classrooms, books, professors, tests, papers, and homework. They also experience the non-academic side, which often consists of residential living, club-sports, student activities, and social engagements. However, as student affairs professionals, faculty, and staff, it is our obligation to unite the two. What was once believed to be separate, distinct entities now need to be bound together so as to appear whole and continuous (Kuh, 1996). This represents Kuhs aspect of seamless learning. In his estimation, one experience is not more important than the other. Having both fall on an even plane suggests students will have the most well-rounded experience. The two pieces of the puzzle must be put together.

According to the Student Personnel Point of View (1937), it is the obligation of educational institutions to consider the student as a whole (p. 39). Institutions have a primary responsibility to influence a student emotionally, socially, academically, personally, and spiritually. This can be accomplished through proactive, intentional collaboration by academia coming into non-traditional academic settings to teach class material. Or, in our particular case, interacting with new students in the on-going book discussions. Without the cooperation of all university departments, the student will not be able to reach his or her fullest potential.


The current orientation program wastes money on catering costs which could be spent on practical items such as the purchase of the discussed books. The implementation of this policy, although not stated outright, will result in doing away with lunch during the New Student Orientation programs. I foresee the lack of catering expense to be an issue, but only brought up by the catering company because they would not receive the catering business expected during orientation. However, what was once adequate or effective is not necessarily as effective anymore and certain portions of orientation, such as this, need to change.

            The additional time that faculty and staff will need to adequately prepare to lead the discussions may result in faculty unions negotiating for extended time due to out-of-class work that is being completed. Likewise, the end result of this policy may lead to an increase in student attrition, which is the opposite of its intended outcome. Those opposed to the proposal of the new policy will raise these issues immediately. However, results cannot be established without introducing the policy and documenting its outcome.

Argumentative Reserves

            There are several questions that may come up from the initiation of this policy proposal. For example, although most faculty currently involved with orientation would be prepared to enhance reading skill development on a pre-College level, would they be willing to do this Likewise, if the faculty does participate, what will the content of the group meeting be and what will the discussion center around In essence, will faculty be given a lesson plan to follow Faculty will, indeed, be given a lesson plan to follow, if they choose. I intend to answer the question this way for two reasons: consistency of the program delivery needs to remain constant, yet be kept open enough so faculty do not feel that they are losing any of their academic freedom. I realize that not being able to control how a faculty member presents the material is an extraneous variable, and I intend to keep this in mind when I assess the impact of the program after the first year of inception.

I may need to anticipate that certain faculty will resist this notion, and may, in fact, feel that administration is dictating how to conduct their academic pursuits. If this does, in fact, come up, I will need to respond by saying that these books, chosen by a committee that included faculty members, should be looked upon as a resource to utilize during the small group discussions, and that it has been prepared as a pilot to assist with reading skills so students are at a level to pass developmental English classes so they have the ability to successfully navigate onto their second semester.

            The question also came up in both peer critiques concerning food costs and how the students would be fed during the orientation program. As stated above in the analysis of the policy proposal, food has not been noted as a factor of student retention at University X. However, the assessment of student reaction to the lack of food will be taken into consideration upon completion of the programs first year of existence. At that time, the lack of food will be revisited to see if it has made an impact, either positively or negatively, on the student body.

Critics may also ask whether or not research has been conducted on the perceived need for such a policy. In other words, is student retention and attrition a national problem If so, has a policy such as this been documented as successfully assisting with student retention at other colleges and universities I will also need to be aware of critics suggesting that I may be looking in the wrong developmental area (reading skills vs. math comprehension). In order to counter these concerns, an argument needs to be well-established citing that persistence rates, most notably at community colleges, are affected by the following factors:

       Students are often first generation college students;

       Students often encounter English as a second language;

       Students often work more than 20 hours a week;

       Students take care of children or relatives as the primary caregiver; and

       Students may have only completed remedial courses.

I need to be prepared for the criticism that this program may not reduce the number of students in remedial courses and that tweaking curriculum will not always have positive effects. The fact remains that a magic formula does not yet exist that shows a causal relationship between one specific policy implementation and student retention rates. Perhaps this policy is the start.

An interesting point was also made concerning the choice of dated literature used to support this proposal. Although I understand the need to use current and cutting edge literature, the Points of View from 1937 and 1949 are still widely cited as groundbreaking pieces of literature used to guide College professionals today.

I truly believe that this policy proposal will be accepted. Its real test would come upon the completion of the first year to see how many students University X retained, and whether or not they felt that the new policy had anything to do with their success.


American College Personnel Association. (1994). The student learning imperative:             Implications for student affairs. Alexandria, VA: Author.

American Council on Higher Education (1949). 1949 Student Personnel Point of View,       Points of View (17-36). Washington, D.C.: NASPA.

American Council on Higher Education (1937). 1937 Student Personnel Point of View, Pointof View (37-50). Washington, D.C.: NASPA.

Campus News. (Fall, 2005). Summer Reading Requirement For Freshman Gets a LivelyDiscussion Going. Temple Review.

University X (2005). Strategic Plan (2004-2009). Part III:

Restructuring for the future. Item K: Programs and Services: Additions, deletions, and improvements. Goal K1, p. 41. Retrieved October 21, 2005 from http://www.University X.edu/stafpage.

Kuh, G. (1996). Guiding principles for creating seamless learning environments for          undergraduates. Journal of College Student Development, 37(2), 136.

Kuh, G. (1996). Organizational Theory. In S. R. Komives, D. B. Woodward, Jr., &          Associates (Eds.), Student services: A handbook for the profession (3rd ed., 269-294).San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc.

National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Student in Transition (2005).

Retrieved October 21, 2005 from

Wingspread Report, The. (1993).