Published on 2012/03/13

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 Fangraphs.com, 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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Readers Comments

But what about retention for adult students?

Since this post referenced sports and statistics (which I like), I had to read it. Having just participated in a working session with board members of NUTN (National University Technology Network), I would say the issue of “sophmore slump” or simply retention and completion is one of the most underrepresented challenges in educating adult learners. Regardless of delivery mode, retention and completion impacts performance-based funding and institutional rank. For adult learners, which now represent the majority of HE students, completion rates are less than one-half compared with traditional students. But I was encouraged to hear specific actions and ideas like requiring a student to prepare a degree plan and using it to provide a more prescriptive approach to keeping the student engaged. Or to put in place a systematic way to guide the student along their journey (and goals) by using milestones and tools such as course completion, personalized portals and goal mapping. Statistics pertaining to persistence and retention are trending downward across the board. Addressing this “slump” especially for working adult students should be a top priority for all institutions. Thank, Rob, for your thoughtful post along with the baseball point of view on a critical issue!

Jose Suarez 2012/03/13 at 9:45 am

I…also read this because it had to do with baseball — and find myself agreeing with both you and Yancy!

Retention strategies after the first term are vital. I think schools are guilty of the same problem for traditional and non-traditional students in this case: in the first few months of school they get students so excited about the change they’re making, the support that’s available for them and their families, really selling the school. And once the student is locked in, completed a semester and on the way to certification, all that support and all that enthusiasm falls by the wayside.

If we’re going to get serious about raising the graduation rate, it’s not getting students in the door and excited that we have to worry about. There’s enrollment waiting lists and lines out the door on that end. It’s keeping students excited that we need to focus on.

Victoria monier 2012/03/16 at 3:18 pm

Retention with adults is vital problem that we face. We need to find ways to keep adult students from slipping through the cracks. I believe that correcting this problem should begin in high school. There needs to be a greater association made between goals, perseverance, and rewards. This has to be done on a larger scale than standardized testing and achieving a state basketball trophy.
How can we guide our adult learners through their social and educational problems if we can’t show them the whole picture of the domino effect this decision will have on their lives?

Rob Liddell 2012/06/27 at 10:35 am

The initial article was focused on six significant transitions confronting “traditionally” aged students. As the comments above prove out, the needs of adult learners present differently. Less important are the carefully crafted programs integrating adult students into the social community of our colleges. Adult students come to college with a well-developed social network and other role-based responsibilities (e.g. parent, full-time employee). While “traditionally” aged students come to college to “have an experience,” adult students are much more inclined to expect a direct line from their studies to their careers. Institutions committed to serving their adult student population well should highlight these pathways and offer transferable experiences in specific career fields.

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