Skip to Search Skip to Global Navigation Skip to Local Navigation Skip to Content
CLASS: Coordinated and Linked Approaches to Student Success

CLASS Initiative II

FIRST-YEAR EXPERIENCE

Rather than letting students find their own paths through college, a growing number of colleges and universities across the nation are taking a different approach by creating guided pathways or meta-majors. Institutions are redesigning their offerings to simplify students’ decisions by creating more highly structured programs with default schedules. This aids students in making better choices during their first-year in college
that will lead them toward their end goals without limiting their options.

Meta-majors, specifically, are a broad set of content areas or groups of majors under a larger academic umbrella that students choose upon enrollment. These often include a set of courses that meet academic requirements that are common to several disciplines or programs of study. Meta-majors, also known as academic pathways, guide students through initial academic requirements and into programs of study by providing a clear pathway to graduation, helping students make connections between coursework and career tracks, and limiting excessive options for students at the beginning of their academic career. Academic pathways have been shown to reduce the number of students who change their major. Likewise, when a student does change his/her major, s/he is more likely to have enough courses under his/her belt that will transfer to the new major. Furthermore, the implementation of such pathways have shown to boost college completion.

The CLASS Task Force on First-Year-Experience determined that the creation of academic pathways with pre-set schedules would be an effective strategy to help students determine an appropriate major at the best time in their academic year, reduce major changes in the first-year and subsequent years, and enhance a sense of belonging through the cohort effects of expanded learning communities.

CLASS Strategies for First-Year Experience

  • Create Academic Pathway Groups
  • Develop pre-set schedules of 9-15 hours of coursework for first and second semesters
  • Revise AIS course to align with Academic Pathway models


 

AIS 1203

In fall 2014, UTSA initiated a required first-year seminar course titled Academic Inquiry and Scholarship. The objective of this course in its current iteration is to provide incoming students with a general introduction to academic cultures of inquiry and the ideas, values, and beliefs inherent in their varied disciplinary perspectives. Specifically, the course addresses the following three academic cultures: the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. The AIS course currently utilizes a cross-disciplinary framework to help students gain an understanding of the vital role that postsecondary institutions play in creating knowledge through a broad range of intellectual endeavors and methodological tools. As a pinnacle experience of the AIS course, students work in teams to develop a term-length research project that explores an academic question through the lens of each academic culture. Another critical component of this curriculum is that each AIS section contains, in addition to the primary faculty member, an undergraduate peer mentor and a graduate teaching assistant that provide additional social and academic support to students. As such, the AIS course, as part of UTSA’s First-Year Experience Program, aims to enhance students’ overall transition to postsecondary life and provide an academic foundation that may lead to an increase in retention and graduation rates. 

Students have expressed a desire for the course to better relate to their major and incorporate critical student success skills such as studying techniques, expectations and networking in the career world, career and major exploration, and time management. 

The recommendations for the content of the AIS course include aligning the course with the academic pathway model proposed by the CLASS FYE Task Force; incorporating a signature experience for each pathway; weaving student success skills into the curriculum via assignments and activities; continuing to focus on career and major exploration; presentations from the Tomas Rivera Center and other student support services on campus; and incorporating an e-portfolio tool to promote marketable skills. Additional recommendations include the alignment of faculty, teaching assistants, and peer mentors around the pathway model; the creation of Pathway Coordinators, AIS Coordinators, and AIS Training Developers; and the development of new pathway specific trainings. 

CLASS Strategies for AIS 1203

ONGOING

  • Revise course to map with Academic Pathways

    • Will also provide content to develop critical thinking, communication, social responsibility and leadership skills

    • Will continue to include major and career exploration and a signature experience

SHORT-TERM

  • Shift university funds to recruit and appoint AIS faculty in alignment with the academic pathway model

  • Appoint 2 AIS coordinators and 3-4 faculty from each pathway to serve on AIS Pathway Working Groups