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NIC orientation program helps increase retention

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New students embark on a campus tour during a North Idaho College Orientation, Advising and Registration Session on campus. The new program has helped increase retention at NIC. New students embark on a campus tour during a North Idaho College Orientation, Advising and Registration Session on campus. The new program has helped increase retention at NIC.

More than 1,800 students pass through NIC orientation program this summer

Since North Idaho College implemented the Orientation, Advising and Registration Sessions (OARS) program in 2005, retention numbers have increased about 7 percent.

But retention is only a byproduct of the true success of the program, which Assistant Dean of Students Alex Harris says is the positive experience new students have when first interacting with North Idaho College.

“OARS sets a foundation on which students build their college careers,” Harris said. “We believe that a well served student who feels a connection to NIC from day one is a more successful student. And our increase in retention numbers supports this.”

In 2004, NIC sought the help of a consultant to look at retention issues the college was facing. Enrollment was breaking records each year, yet retention continued to slip.

Revamping the orientation program was just one of many recommendations, but one that was sorely needed, Harris said.

The former admissions process for new students included a one-day, optional orientation in which college officials would present several hours worth of information to students seated in an auditorium. They would then break for a campus tour and some type of social event in the afternoon.

“They were given important information by people they had trouble relating to in an environment that limited valuable personal interactions,” Harris said.

Students also would have registered prior to the orientation session so there was no opportunity to receive information that may be beneficial to their success in college prior to registering.

When OARS was implemented, it brought many of the parts together to ensure that the orientation, registration and advising pieces were of value to students and would make a positive impact on the start of their college career. And it became mandatory.

“OARS is now how individuals become NIC students,” Harris said.

As soon as a student is accepted to NIC, the admissions office communicates to students how to sign up for an OARS session. While the effort is year round, the orientation sessions are held during the summer for new students enrolling for the first time in the fall and several OARS sessions are held in December and January for students beginning during spring semester.

Rather than college officials leading the sessions, current NIC students  are provided incentives to become orientation leaders, leading groups of 15-20 students through the process and detailing for them the registration process and other elements of what it takes to be successful at NIC.

“Going through OARS helped me get information about NIC that I would not have gotten on my own,” said NIC student Jayce Sharrai from Rathdrum, who went through the OARS program and is currently an orientation leader. “The information I received about student life at NIC got me excited about being involved with leadership programs on campus. Now I receive a scholarship for the work I do as an orientation leader.”

Staff and faculty advisers sit down with students individually and develop an education plan with them before they go to the computer lab to actually register for classes.

“In my opinion, it is new students feeling connected to and supported by NIC as they begin their college career that makes the OARS program such a success,” Harris said.

The retention rate of new students that registered in the fall of 2004 and who continued through the end of the next semester was 71.7 percent. The OARS process was implemented in 2005 and the retention rate has increased each year to 78.2 percent for new students registering in the fall of 2008 and persisting through spring 2009.

With enrollment at an all-time high this fall, up 16.5 percent from last year, the OARS program passed more new students through the entrance system this summer than ever before, more than 1,800 students.

 “We’re proud of our OARS program and really believe that it’s the best way to get our students off to the right start, ultimately improving student success which is the North Idaho College mission,” Harris said.

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Stacy Hudson is the Public Information Coordinator for North Idaho College

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