Purdue seeks to "promote excellence in learning experiences and outcomes, fostering intellectual, professional and personal development to prepare learners for life and careers in a dynamic, global society." The strategic plan is comprehensive in its reach and numerous initiatives related to the plan are underway or in discussion. The success of the plan in large part is dependent upon a strong first-year experience.

Among the strategic plan's specific goals are:

  1. Reinvigorate the recruitment and retention of a diverse pool of students with enhanced academic preparation and attend to their achieving success through effective pedagogy, incentives and support and outstanding opportunities for career development.
  2. Instill in students a passion for academic success as well as lifelong learning through currency in knowledge, pedagogical variety including distance learning programs/options and conduct learning outcomes assessment for continuous improvement.
  3. Consider developing a University college to provide common first-year program options for students to make well-informed choices of curricula before admission to a college/school degree program.
  4. Undertake the initiatives toward a University-wide core curricular experience for integration into all degree programs in response to the need for core competencies the graduates must demonstrate, reflecting the value of curricular synergies that render them as informed graduates in a global society.
  5. Engage all undergraduate students in experiential learning, early in their careers at Purdue, through involvement in research, service learning, study-abroad programs and other hands-on experiences appropriate to their curricula.
  6. Provide exceptional students with enhanced educational opportunities through an expanded University honors program and accelerated learning options.
  7. Proactively attend to student success through early monitoring and positive intervention for students with declining academic success.
  8. Significantly transform introductory (gateway) courses and develop effective pedagogies that are appropriate for various learning objectives so as to improve student success.
  9. Create a centralized framework for student excellence and leadership to provide comprehensive, one-stop support functions that enhance the effectiveness and responsiveness of core student support services and coordinate activities and experiences that enhance student academic performance, extra/co-curricular activities and professional development.
  10. Expand and integrate civic engagement for students through campus design projects and community service opportunities to prepare for successful citizenship.
  11. Promote respect and an inclusive community exemplifying diversity in all aspects of a productive, proactive and nurturing learning environment.

In short, the strategic plan sets high educational expectations for students, faculty and staff. The current situation is that many of the elements of the strategic plan related to "Launching Tomorrow's Leaders" are underway, including SATS, IMPACT, STAR, expanded Learning Communities; and the rebirth of Supplemental Instruction. In addition, deliberation about the creation of a University core curriculum and a new Honors College are well underway.

As noted by the Transitions Dimension Committee, prospective and admitted students are bombarded with mail and electronic communications from admissions, housing, financial aid and their future college and department. Many of the messages include language that stresses the importance of a college education that builds toward meaningful careers. Upon arriving on campus, additional messages are geared for the first-year students, clearly demonstrated by the depth of the Evidence Library.

For example, the 12th grade admissions brochure includes articles highlighting a Purdue education that can be creative and analytical, lead to a better world, etc.[133] The word "job" is only found four times in the 30-page document, while the word "career" is found a dozen times. The references to "job" do not focus on finding a job, but rather:

  • Encourage the student to seek a "dream job."
  • Note that Purdue graduates are known for their ability to hit the ground running from the day they graduate. We prepare students of all types of not just jobs, but careers spent creating a better world.
  • Each year, Purdue graduates report a success rate that approaches or exceeds 90 percent in finding jobs, grad school placement and reaching goals such as Teach for America and the Peace Corps.
  • 8,419 is the number of on-campus student job interviews. (The national average is 3,555.)

Despite these efforts, our first-year students (and most likely their parents and family) are focused on the "job," a concern that may reflect the economic times. However, a survey conducted by Eduventures on behalf of Purdue suggests that students and parents view the first job equivalent to a career. The Wordle compares the Faculty and Staff Survey responses of first-year students and faculty and staff to the open-ended question: "What is the purpose of higher education?" Among first-year students, there is a strong focus on securing a job or be in position to earn a higher salary. In contrast, faculty and staff are more focused on providing an education that prepares students for a meaningful career as productive and engaged citizens as opposed to a job.[134] Faculty and staff also place a greater emphasis on building a global perspective. The students place emphasis on thinking of the future or bettering themselves. The differences are subtle, but important.

Our review leads us to three questions:

  1. How well does Purdue communicate to first-year students the institution's notion of purpose?
  2. To what degree does Purdue provide students the opportunity to explore their motivation for higher education?
  3. How well does Purdue communicate the institution's rationale for its curriculum?

Insights to these questions can be gleaned via a comparison of the Faculty and Staff Survey for five questions related to Roles & Purposes in the table below. They are:

  1. Prepare for Employment
  2. Knowledge for Personal Growth
  3. Active Member of Your Community
  4. Contribute to the Betterment of Society
  5. Achieve Life Goals

Note that our Committee shares some of the concerns with the instrument and administration of the survey as expressed by the Faculty Dimension Committee.

That said, in general, first-year students have a stronger belief that their experience at Purdue is achieving all of these goals than the faculty or staff, as shown in the table below. A statistical test of the comparison of means finds that the means are statistically different for all factors except "Prepare for Employment."

The mean is the highest for first-year students and faculty and staff for "Prepare for Employment." Students find relatively little difference among "Prepare for Employment," "Knowledge for Personal Growth," "Active Member of Your Community," and "Contribute to the Betterment of Society." For students, "Achieve Life Goals" has a much lower ranking than the other four attributes. For faculty, "Prepare for Employment" is ranked much higher than the other four attributes, which are quite close in their respective means.

At least three interpretations are possible. The first may be that as consumers of education, students are relatively satisfied with how Purdue is helping them define their roles and purposes. Yet some would counter that a key attribute of first-year students is that "they don't know what they don't know." Second, the faculty and staff may feel that not enough is being done to help students identify this component of their first-year student's experience. A comparison of the two Wordles supports this difference. A third possible explanation is that Purdue has a higher proportion of new students enrolled in career-focused disciplines as compared to other universities.

Table 8-1. A comparison of survey questions, by students versus staff and faculty.[135]

1. PREPARE FOR EMPLOYMENT t-difference:1.611
Student (Q63): Increases knowledge for your future employment?
Faculty/Staff (Q44): Preparation for future employment?
Group Mean Std Dev N Not at all Slight Moderate High Very High
Student 3.81 0.96 2022 2.2% 7.0% 23.3% 42.4% 25.0%
Faculty/Staff 3.71 0.88 228 0.9% 8.8% 25.9% 46.9% 17.5%
2. KNOWLEDGE FOR PERSONAL GROWTH t-difference: 12.656
Student (Q64): Increases knowledge for your personal growth?
Faculty/Staff (Q43): Knowledge for personal growth?
Group Mean Std Dev N Not at all Slight Moderate High Very High
Student 3.75 0.98 2018 2.7% 7.1% 25.6% 41.4% 23.2%
Faculty/Staff 2.90 0.94 219 5.9% 27.9% 40.2% 21.9% 4.1%
3. ACTIVE MEMBER OF YOUR COMMUNITY t-difference: 10.949
Student (Q65): Prepares you to be an involved member of your community?
Faculty/Staff (Q45): Active engagement in the community?
Group Mean Std Dev N Not at all Slight Moderate High Very High
Student 3.68 1.00 2011 3.3% 8.1% 27.4% 39.7% 21.4%
Faculty/Staff 2.96 0.93 226 3.5% 29.2% 39.8% 22.1% 5.3%
4. CONTRIBUTE TO THE BETTERMENT OF SOCIETY t-difference: 11.012
Student (Q66): Prepares you to contribute to the betterment of society?
Faculty/Staff (Q46): Contributions to the betterment of society?
Group Mean Std Dev N Not at all Slight Moderate High Very High
Student 3.70 0.99 2015 2.9% 7.9% 27.0% 40.4% 21.8%
Faculty/Staff 2.96 0.95 224 3.6% 29.9% 39.7% 20.1% 6.7%
5. ACHIEVE LIFE GOALS t-difference: 6.324
Student (Q34): Discussed how college can help you achieve your life goals?
Faculty/Staff (Q47): Achievement of their life goals?
Group Mean Std Dev N Not at all Slight Moderate High Very High
Student 3.46 1.11 2054 5.9% 12.1% 30.7% 32.1% 19.1%
Faculty/Staff 3.03 0.93 215 3.7% 24.2% 44.2% 21.4% 6.5%


Recommendations

  1. Challenge first-year students to consider their role and purpose in their first month at Purdue. First-year students must be challenged to think about the roles and purposes of their education at a very early stage. Ideally students would have this discussion with an advisor, with additional support from faculty, peers, etc. The conversation must focus on questions such as "What do you hope to accomplish in life?" or "How do you plan to make the world a better place?" Understanding what courses to take for a curriculum plan is important. However, if the first-year student does not have a concept of direction or "fit," the academic aspect of advising may well be meaningless. Potential action steps include:
    • Some universities engage first-year students in a day of service at the beginning of the semester. It might be possible to implement this as part of BGR. BGR leaders could facilitate reflection sessions that would encourage students to consider "How do you plan to make the world a better place?"
    • Consider requiring a first-year orientation course for all first-year students. Care should be taken to avoid redundancy with existing orientation courses that require enrollment for the same students. An effort to capture best practices among existing campus orientation courses or programs such as Purdue Promise, the USP orientation course (GS 119), the Agricultural Economics peer mentoring orientation model (AGR 112 and AGEC 260) is recommended. The approach in such orientation courses should be around exercises and activities that encourage significant reflection time as opposed to an "information by saturation" approach. Guidance also should be sought from the University Senate committee working on the adoption of a core curriculum for the West Lafayette campus. Topics for an orientation course might include:
      • Who am I? (skills, interests, talents, personality, learning preferences)
      • Who are we? (shared values, intergroup dialogue)
      • What are the expectations? (academic, self, etc.)
      • What do I do well? What do I enjoy? (career clarification and/or exploration)
    • Develop a fall semester lecture series around community service and connect it to highly saturated first-year courses (e.g., ENGL 106 or COM 114) or Learning Communities.
    • Utilize a social networking-based communication channel (e.g., Facebook) or some form of blogging activity to invite first-year student participation in thematic discussions relating to higher education roles and purposes. Over time, upper-class students could be selected and coached to help stimulate these online discussions and provide peer mentorship.
    • All residence halls already have a well-established faculty fellows program. A structured program hosted by faculty fellows could be established to facilitate discussions within the residence hall environment to consider the purpose of becoming a college-educated person.
    • Given the complexity of Purdue's campus, our Committee agrees with the Transitions Dimension Committee that a task force be established to help implement a first-year orientation course.
  2. Focus student education on innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership. As a university, Purdue has relative strengths in these domains and should present them to students as means to differentiate themselves from students at other universities and as one means to achieve the strategic goal of Launching Tomorrow's Leaders.
    • It is possible that a fair number of first-year students are unaware of campus resources and programs surrounding leadership, entrepreneurship and innovation. One approach could be a marketing campaign aimed at connecting leadership programming to the residence halls or Learning Communities.
    • Create a set of new leadership workshops/courses specifically designed for first-year students. These offerings might build on current programs such as the President's Leadership Class or the Emily Mauzy Vogel Sophomore Leadership Development Conference.
    • Alternatively, the materials on innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership could be embedded in the orientation courses discussed in Recommendation 1 or become part of a series of first-year seminar courses.
    • Introduce first-year students to online professional networking such as LinkedIn, as opposed to social networking (e.g., Facebook). More than 800 Purdue students already belong to a LinkedIn community for entrepreneurship and innovation. This site also links Purdue students to alumni, faculty members, residence hall professionals, academic advisors and Dean of Students' counselors, among others.
    • The new Center for Student Excellence and Leadership (CSEL) initiative presents a great opportunity to inform students to programming designed to help them become innovators, entrepreneurs and leaders. Although CSEL will not be a truly centralized location for student organizations and academic support operations, it will be strategically located in the Student Success Corridor and will bring many organizations and services under one roof.
  3. Provide career planning information and career counseling for first-year students. Given students' predisposition to finding a job, we cannot ignore the importance of career counseling, especially for first-year students. The Center for Career Opportunities (CCO) provides professional career counseling services but lacks the capacity to effectively address the needs of all first-year students.
    • In a 2010 survey of 32 peer university career centers, the median career center staff/student ratio was one staff member for every 1,331 students and the mean ratio was one for every 1,337 students. The Purdue CCO finished last among peer career centers in the survey with a career center staff/student ratio of one for every 2,483 students. Given the breadth of the CCO's delivery of career services, the demand for career counseling services cannot currently be met with available resources. With CCO's services extended to students at all undergraduate class levels, as well as graduate students and alumni, there are limited opportunities for the CCO to adequately serve a high volume of first-year students. From August 1, 2011, to December 1, 2011, a total of 991 first-year students registered with their service (through CCO Express). Of that group, 296 first-year students have taken advantage of the CCO's walk-in advising services while 99 first-year students engaged in pre-scheduled individual appointments. These numbers represent a small percentage of the first-year students enrolled on the West Lafayette campus.
    • While the current model of advisors referring students to CCO for career counseling is understandable since most advisors' backgrounds lack formal education or intensive training relating to career counseling theory and practice, opportunities to improve academic advisors understanding of career counseling must be further explored. As technology evolves (i.e., DegreeWorks is successfully implemented), the role of the academic advisor may change from a role of helping students select courses to the opportunity to engage students in a more meaningful way about their career development.
    • We should not presume that advisors will have more time for career advising as DegreeWorks is implemented, at least not for the first few years. New IT solutions are often accompanied with unanticipated consequences. However, if DegreeWorks should be found to relieve advisors from some of their current course advising/auditing responsibilities, it would be wise to provide advisors with training related to career counseling. We offer the following recommendations for consideration:
      • Provide resources to the CCO to expand its career counseling staffing to a level more appropriate to the size and scope of the West Lafayette campus, allowing for a greater focus on direct student service. Specifically, four more career counselors could effectively meet the additional workload of providing comprehensive career counseling and career programming targeted at first-year students. Two of these counselors could be based within the residence halls, though administratively report to the CCO (as nine-month academic year appointments). The other two positions would be full-time counselors in the CCO facility.
      • If the CCO is more appropriately staffed with professional career consultants in accordance with professional norms, then charge CCO to take a leadership role in establishing a campus-wide institute to provide academic advisors with professional instruction and training in career counseling intervention and practice.
      • Establish a career counseling-based curriculum within the College of Education and incentivize academic advisors to pursue graduate level study in this discipline.
      • Alternatively, if a graduate degree program is not deemed viable, identify resources to help advisors develop personal and career counseling skills. Such a program could offer some type of certification (e.g., 15 credit hours) or could be professional development series that encompasses that focus over a year's time (perhaps via a distance education-related model).
      • As vacancies occur with academic advising, charge selection committees to seek candidates with professional education and training in career counseling.
      • Place a greater emphasis on resident assistant training/programming. Career exploration could be a strong programmatic emphasis for first year students during the spring semester especially given the upcoming summer job market and delving deeper into their major during the sophomore year. Again, models of courses already exist that help students explore careers within a discipline. A best-in-class approach might be used to expand these opportunities to other majors.
  4. Provide a consistent message about the role and purpose of a Purdue education. The decentralized nature of the campus' organizational structure means that a variety of messages can be and are delivered to students. That said, it is critical during the first year that we are more deliberate and consistent telling our students that our programs of study and student life are designed to build a person for meaningful careers and engaged citizens.
    • To become more deliberate and consistent in our messaging, one idea would be to create specific professional groups on campus who are traditionally engaged with first-year students. These groups of professionals could meet on a regular basis to ensure that each individual is sending the same message. This is especially true for academic advisors, residence life staff, predominant first-year course instructors, etc. Each semester could have themes, which connect the first year together more cohesively (e.g., Engaged Citizenship, Impactful Work, Collaborative Communities, Learning Communities, etc.).
    • It will also be critical to start the messaging on the Admissions website (e.g., the Admissions website includes a Success Guide for incoming students). The current guide fails to address roles and purposes of an education.

133. Evidence Library: #54: 12th Grade Admissions Brochure. Purdue University.

134. Evidence Library #594: Final Wordle. Purdue University.

135. Source: Purdue Foundations of Excellence Task Force.