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Summit on the Sophomore Year Experience

Sophomore Slump

Research shows that the sophomore year is a particularly precarious time for students. They may no longer feel the excitement of being at college, and they may not feel equipped to make important decisions that will affect the rest of their college careers and perhaps their lives. Without the support structures offered during the first year of college, sophomores often find themselves adrift. Connections with faculty, a sense of academic purpose, and commitment to the institution are critical for students to make during the sophomore year to enhance their entire undergraduate experience.

This two-year project will enable faculty to identify the challenges sophomores face on our campuses and develop appropriate interventions. With the goal of improving the sophomore experience, we will collect data from ACM schools about our sophomores, inventory sophomore programs and initiatives across the consortium, and engage faculty in conversations on our home campuses and across the ACM at a Sophomore Summit.

This two-year project will enable faculty to identify the challenges sophomores face on our campuses and develop appropriate interventions.

Note: Adapted from original project proposal


Project Goal

How students transition to upper-level work has a significant impact on faculty as teachers and advisors (not to mention the impact on our institutions’ financial outlooks).

  • How can faculty increase their understanding of sophomores in their classes or their sophomore advisees?
  • What strategies help sophomores achieve the level of critical and abstract thinking that we seek?
  • How do we help students feel connected to our colleges and take advantage of the opportunities on our campuses?
  • How do we support sophomores’ development and personal well-being?

This project seeks to help faculty identify factors that lead to student malaise and develop and assess appropriate sophomore year interventions that foster students’ growth and maturity as learners.

Campus Goals & Collaboration

This project will enable us to achieve goals that are specific to our individual institutions as well as our collective goals and desire for collaboration with other ACM schools.

Colorado College

Staff and faculty will be piloting a sophomore conference and block break retreat to inspire students to reflect on their educational experiences, connect with students, staff, and faculty, set goals, and make plans for their remaining three years of college

A recent retention and graduation task force found that attrition among sophomores is higher at CC than at peer institutions. CC has an established set of sophomore co-curricular programs, but we worry that these programs may not be meeting the needs of students. This grant would allow us to experiment with new initiatives– a sophomore conference and retreat– and help us build capacity among our faculty for more responsive sophomore advising, programming, and curricula.

Luther College

A self-selected group of faculty, staff, and students will be piloting an eportfolio initiative utilizing a set of reflection questions designed to assist sophomores in looking back at what they have done, inward to their strengths and goals, and forward to opportunities ahead.

Luther’s retention and graduation task force identified a surprising number of well-qualified sophomore students who depart the College. Luther’s Strategic Priorities 2016-18 calls for integrated and experiential learning in the sophomore and junior years, as well as implementation of the HLC Quality Initiative cultivating reflective practice in the sophomore year. This grant would allow us to implement and evaluate an eportfolio project encouraging reflection and a more meaningful college experience.

Beloit College

Faculty have begun piloting Initiatives Intro courses which require them to meet every student twice a semester for a relationship-building conversation, to speak to issues of risk, failure, as well as transferable skills in course content, and to connect with other campus units during class time.

Beloit’s Initiatives Program provides a vision for students’ first two years, but our sophomore component has been weak. This semester, Beloit implemented a “sophomore reboot” by way of providing a specific set of high-impact learning practices in a dozen introductory courses. This grant will support the new Strategic Enrollment plan and allow for assessment and, if warranted, expansion of “Initiative Intro Courses”.


The work for this grant will take place over 24 months, beginning in the summer of 2017 with planning for data collection and culminating in a presentation at AAC&U in January 2019.

In the fall of 2018, we will organize the Sophomore Summit. At this event, we will invite faculty and staff from across the ACM to participate in conversations about our sophomore students’ experiences and our related campus initiatives, with the goal to:

  1. Gain a greater sense of the issues facing sophomores on ACM campuses
  2. Catalog our existing sophomore programs and initiatives and identify effective practices in curriculum, advising, and co-curricular programming for sophomores
  3. Monitor progress on the individual campus pilot programs and develop assessment plans for each
  4. Explore the possibility of pooling and standardizing data to determine ACM-wide trends

As a follow-up to the Sophomore Summit, we will draft a white paper recording the insights from our meeting to share with faculty on our campuses, and share with the National Center for the Study of the First Year and Students in Transition. We will also submit a proposal to share our insights at AAC&U in 2019.

Outcomes and Significance

The primary outcome of the project is a compilation of results from the implementation of sophomore initiatives on our campuses and a gathering of experiences and data from across the ACM. Results will include an analysis of current research about sophomore student experiences and outcomes, a collection of shared data pertaining to sophomores from participating campuses across the ACM, and an identified set of practices and programming that support sophomores studying on our campuses. These results will be discussed and shared at the proposed summit.

We expect these products will increase faculty awareness of challenges related to the sophomore experience on our campuses, as well as on the campuses of summit attendees. We believe our collaborations will have a positive impact on advising at the sophomore level and will allow each participating campus to better assess opportunities for faculty development.

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