Return to Program Profiles Defiance College

Defiance College has traditionally served students from local, rural Ohio areas who are the first in their families to graduate from college, but the college is now seeing a rise in enrollment of urban first-generation students from outside of the state. The Defiance College Connections Program was designed to assist first-year, first-generation college students as they make the transition from high school to college.

Students signed a participation agreement that outlined the activities to which participants were expected to attend. Students completing the program were eligible for a textbook voucher. The program focused on five critical components of adjustment: basic college knowledge, social interaction, academic self-confidence, major and career exploration, and leadership development. Each of these areas was addressed in small group settings that consisted of five to seven first-year, first-generation students; a first-generation peer mentor; and a faculty/staff mentor. Connection Conversations were held throughout the academic year.

In addition, participants met with their faculty/staff mentor at midterm and before finals to discuss their personal success plans. One challenge was to encourage students who need this type of support to take the initial step and join the group.

Program Outcomes

The Connections Program has had a positive impact on the students who have joined the group—including an increased rate of participation in other campus activities. Participants have shown increased retention from first-year to second-year and have achieved higher cumulative GPAs than the control group. In addition, the campus community now has a heightened awareness of the need for this kind of support for first-generation students.

Fall to spring retention in 2011–2012 was 88.5 percent for Connections participants and also for a control group. The spring to fall retention, however, showed a considerable gap, with 78.3 percent of the Connections participants retained versus 73.9 percent of the control group. Fall to fall retention was 69.2 percent for the Connections students compared with 65.4 percent for the control group. GPAs were 2.93 (fall), 2.71 (spring), and 2.87 (cumulative) for the Connections students compared with 2.70, 2.73, and 2.78 for the control group.

The institution is strengthened, too, in that many of the discussion topics in the program workshops have been incorporated into the First-Year Seminar courses. Further, improved career awareness was achieved through the Connections program’s workshops.

Program Updates

Connections continues, and the college also has initiated a two-week long residential summer bridge program for incoming students needing additional academic or transition support. The program allows students time to become acclimated to campus life, access student support services, and learn academic success strategies before the first day of classes. Many of the programs’ participants are first-generation students.

The book voucher has been eliminated, and small group meetings have been replaced by a large group meeting after which students break into smaller groups.