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New College of Arts and Sciences Class for Exploratory Students Increased Retention and Success in First Year

By Avery Schanbacher 

Student Center Social StaircaseLast fall, students in UK’s Exploratory Studies program participated in a new course, A&S 141, designed to connect them with a variety of academic fields and on-campus resources while developing study skills to aid them as they navigate their first semester of college. Throughout the class, students heard professors from across campus speak about their fields, research, and career paths.  

The course, taught by Christia Brown, associate dean for inclusive excellence and psychology professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, and two teaching assistants, was divided into two sections: a class and a recitation. Brown cites the small group recitation meeting as a valuable time for students to develop relationships and practice good study habits. As a final assignment, students were asked to choose a major and discuss both what kind of classes and coursework that major would entail and why they were interested in it. This practice assignment paid off: at the course’s end, most students in A&S 141 did find a major.  

“That was one of our big goals,” Brown said. “In the past, exploratory students were less likely to return for their second semester. Through this course they found a community and path forward at UK.” 

The course’s weekly mini lectures from UK faculty in fields from anthropology to business played an important role in introducing students to new opportunities for study in areas they might not have otherwise known about. 

According to Brown, many exploratory studies students are placed in the College of Arts and Sciences after planning to enter another program such as nursing or engineering, and not meeting the admission requirements for those majors. A&S 141 helped students like these find new programs that matched their interests and goals, allowing them to flourish within the College of Arts and Sciences.  

“One of the challenges was helping students see there are so many options for them within the college that they don’t have to change their interests,” Brown said. “We can help them find a place where their interests will fit. Some wanted to be in computer science and engineering, and we have options such as writing, rhetoric, and digital studies that also has a digital studies component.” 

“If you compare the students that took the course vs the exploratory students that didn’t get into the course, the students that took the class were much more likely to be students at UK in the second semester than those that didn’t,” said Brown of the course’s impact on retention and student success. “The numbers show that we retained almost 10% more exploratory students who took the course than those that did not.”  

Many exploratory studies students are also first-generation college students. The course worked to foster their success by connecting them with on-campus resources and ensuring students knew how to talk to instructors and get assistance if needed. 

“We also know the students that took the course have better GPAs than the students that didn’t, so the course actually did help with study skills and course success strategies,” Brown said.  

A&S 141 will continue to be offered in future fall semesters to help first-semester exploratory studies students find a sense of community and guidance as they begin their time at UK.