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College freshmen can succeed, they just need the right tools

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
August 16, 2010
— Kristin Fillhouer shared her “Huck Finn” theory with incoming freshmen to make a point during their enrollment session.

“When I was in high school, I was supposed to read ‘(The Adventures of) Huck(leberry) Finn.’ I didn’t and still got an A. How could that have happened when I didn’t read the whole book?’’ asked the assistant campus dean for student services at UW-Rock County.


“You cheated,’’ one guessed.


“I didn’t cheat,’’ Fillhouer said.


“Someone read the book and told you about it,’’ another suggested.


“You’re on the right track,” Fillhouer said before explaining.


“If I’m in English class five days a week, and on Monday the instructor says I want you to read chapter one by tomorrow. Then Tuesday we talk all about chapter one. Tuesday we’re assigned chapter two, and Wednesday we talk all about chapter two. So I don’t necessarily need to read the book cover to cover to get the important pieces because the teacher is telling it to us every day. There’s a lot of repetition.


“You probably were a student or know a student who maybe didn’t have to do a lot of homework and still got by OK. But that’s going to be a dramatic change because much more of the work is going to be on you. So what feels like free time—not so much,’’ Fillhouer said.


College students need to read the book because they have class only two hours a week and instructors don’t have time to go back over the chapters. Students need to read so they understand the bigger concepts of the book, its historical value, who the author was and why the book was influential, she said.


Fillhouer stressed: “It’s not hard. As a student, you can be successful in school. You just need the tools to do that.’’


Incoming students will find those tools in a new study skills toolbox created by a committee of UW-Rock staff members, including Fillhouer and Dr. John Pruitt, coordinator of Engaging Students in the First Year and professor of English at UW-Rock.


The toolbox consists of hour-long workshops that include sessions on how to take essay exams, how to read textbooks, time management, working in a study group and how to make use of the learning support center.


The goal is retention, Pruitt said.


“Because if students get frustrated and are not getting help they think they need, they’re likely to drop out,’’ he said.


National statistics support that, indicating that one in five students drops out of college the first year.


“Nationwide in two-year schools, it’s about 50 percent. But it’s not that high here,’’ Pruitt said.


According to a growth agenda accountability report, 58 percent of full-time new freshmen entering UW colleges in fall 2008 were retained to fall 2009. That same year, an additional 8 percent retained elsewhere in the UW system.


At UW-Rock, where freshmen enrollment has increased by 34 percent over the last four years, 450 new freshmen are enrolled for fall, Fillhouer said.


Ninety percent of the students who dropped out last year admitted in a fall 2009 UW-Rock retention project that they weren’t prepared for college, Fillhouer said.


Knowing freshmen will face adjustments and challenges, Fillhouer and Pruitt offered these tips for success:


-- Communicate—Talk with faculty, staff, other students, parents, mental health counselors and the learning support center because the first semester will be filled with changes.


-- Check your campus e-mail—Do this at least once every several days to receive important information.


-- Budget your financial aid—Don’t overspend; make good decisions. In other words, live like a student now, not the rest of your life.


-- Get involved—Participate on campus to create new relationships.


-- If possible, get a job on campus through work-study—If students are employed, they’re more likely to be successful.?


-- Understand transition from high school to college—You will have to do more work on your own instead of in the classroom.


-- Research study skills—Find what works best for you.


-- Utilize campus resources and don’t be afraid to ask for help—This includes tapping into the campus library and tutoring centers.


-- Meet with advisors—They can help you with selecting classes.


-- Don’t multi-task—Text messaging or chatting online is distracting and slows you down.



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