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Walk Percentages: Baseball And Higher Education

Walk Percentages: Baseball And Higher Education
After all the excitement that surrounds the beginning, it’s common for both baseball players and students to experience a sophomore slump after their first term. Photo by Wendy.

One of the most curious phenomenon observed is the “sophomore slump” in baseball. The sophomore slump is used in reference to a player’s second season (or sophomore effort) that fails to live up to the player’s rookie season performance. Many casual observers would assume that the more big league at bats, games and situations a player experiences would only help to sustain (if not improve) their performance. The data points to a rather different conclusion. Statistics, collected from, demonstrate a modest increase in plate appearances and walk percentage in the sophomore season when compared against 607 rookie seasons from 2000 to 2010. However, the data also shows a decline in three important offensive statistics: batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage; and a higher strikeout average, again when comparing sophomore performance to rookie year performance. Is there evidence that a similar “sophomore slump” confronts our institution’s students in higher education?

For most colleges and universities, the majority of first- to second-year attrition occurs between spring and fall terms, yet little is done systematically to intervene and intercept this potential attrition at a time in which resources might have an opportunity to impact student departure. The conventional approach, taken by most institutions, is to over-program activities into the first six weeks of the fall term to advise, orient, excite and involve new students into the academic and social communities we call college. The scholarly literature was pursued with considerable interest in understanding transitions; namely from high school to college and subsequently from college to career or professional school. With the first-year and the culminating experiences of the senior-year described in the literature, scholars are now interested in what happens to academy’s middle children. Some institutions have recognized the importance of successfully transitioning into the second year and have begun to plan programs that are retention promoting towards the end of the first year of college.

As Joe Cuseo points out, it is reasonable to expect students to confront a “second wave” of adjustments after completing their first term in college. He identifies six potential adjustments, needs and challenges that institutions would be wise to consider when addressing student retention.

First, students are confronted with the need to adjust to the loss of the special attention and support they received during their first term on campus. As the institution turns its attention and resources to a new cohort of entering students, second-year students may find themselves identifying feelings of abandonment and tasked with taking personal responsibility for their education and experiences.

Second, many students struggle to cope with the faded flush of novelty, mystery and excitement associated with beginning college; “the thrill is gone.”

Third, students find themselves transitioning from college-entry social concerns about “meeting new people” and “finding one’s niche” to second-term social tasks that involve sustaining initially formed friendships and progressing toward deeper, more intimate relationships.

Fourth, an additional transition becomes the focus of the sophomore year: academic major selection. Students can experience considerable stress as they move from advising within the first term—focusing on major and career investigation—into second year advising in which many institutions require crystallization and finalization of these decisions. Beloit University (WI) offers sophomore students a “Major Week” with a fair presenting potential academic majors and a culminating “Major Declaration Day” celebration.

Fifth, related to the shifting focus of the academic advising second-year students receive, the individuals delivering the advising also presents itself as an adjustment. First-year students often are assigned to centralized, professional staff-delivered academic advising. Students returning for their second year are generally advised by decentralized, discipline-based, faculty advisors.

Lastly, of the remaining adjustments and challenges within the sophomore year is the transition from campus-based, living/learning residential environments to independent, off-campus housing.

Taken as a whole, institutional administrators concerned about the students who begin at their colleges and decide to withdraw or depart prior to degree completion should bring these six challenges to groups of first- and second-year students to qualify them and then solicit their input and membership on an action-oriented group capable of implementing systemic intercepts and interventions.

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