Research in Higher Education

, Volume 47, Issue 2, pp 149–175 | Cite as

First Things First: Developing Academic Competence in the First Year of College*

  • Robert D. ReasonEmail author
  • Patrick T. Terenzini
  • Robert J. Domingo

Perhaps two-thirds of the gains students make in knowledge and cognitive skill development occur in the first 2 years of college (Pascarella, E. T., and Terenzini, P. T. (2005). How college affects students Vol. 2. A third decade of research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass). A significant proportion of the students entering America’s colleges and universities, however, never make it to their second year at the institution where they began. This study, part of a national effort to transform how colleges and universities think about, package, and present their first year of college, is based on data from nearly 6,700 students and 5,000 faculty members on 30 campuses nationwide. The study identifies the individual, organizational, environmental, programmatic, and policy factors that individually and collectively shape students’ development of academic competence in their first year of college.


college students first-year students first-year experience academic competence foundations of excellence college outcomes 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. ACT2002National collegiate dropout and graduation ratesIowa City, IAACT, Office for the Enhancement of Educational PracticesGoogle Scholar
  2. Anaya, G. 1999College impact on student learning: Comparing the use of self-reported gains, standardized test scores, and college gradesResearch in Higher Education40499526CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Antonio, A. 2000, AprilDeveloping leadership skills for diversity: The role of interracial interactionPaper presented at the meeting of the American Educational Research AssociationNew Orleans, LAGoogle Scholar
  4. Antonio, A. 2001Diversity and the influence of friendship groups in collegeReview of Higher Education256389Google Scholar
  5. Armor, D. J. 1974Theta reliability and factor scalingCostner, H. eds. Sociological methodology: 1973–1974Jossey-BassSan Francisco1750Google Scholar
  6. Astin, A. 1993What matters in college? Four critical years revisitedJossey-BassSan FranciscoGoogle Scholar
  7. Berger, J. 2000Organizational behavior at colleges and student outcomes: A new perspective on college impactReview of Higher Education23177198Google Scholar
  8. Berger, J. 2001–2002Understanding the organizational nature of student persistence: Empirically-based recommendations for practiceJournal of College Student Retention3321Google Scholar
  9. Berger, J. 2002The influence of the organizational structures of colleges and universities on college student learningPeabody Journal of Education774059CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Berger, J., Milem, J. 2000Organizational behavior in higher education and student outcomesSmart, J. C. eds. Higher education: Handbook of theory and researchAgathonNew York268338Google Scholar
  11. Braxton, J., Sullivan, A., Johnson, R. 1997Appraising Tinto’s theory of college student departureSmart, J. C. eds. Higher education: Handbook of theory and researchAgathonNew York107158Google Scholar
  12. Cabrera, A., LaNasa, S. 2001On the path to college: Three critical tasks facing America’s disadvantagedResearch in Higher Education42119149Google Scholar
  13. Cabrera, A. F., Burkum, K. R., and LaNasa, S. M. (2005). Pathways to a four-year degree: Determinants of transfer and degree completion. In: Seidman, A. (ed.), College student retention: A formula for student success. Westport, CT: Greenwood, ACE/Praeger Series on Higher Education, pp. 154–214.Google Scholar
  14. Carini, R. M., Kuh, G. D., and Klein, S. P. (In press). Student engagement and student learning: Testing the linkages. Research in Higher Education.Google Scholar
  15. Chang, M. 1999Does racial diversity matter? The educational impact of a racially diverse undergraduate populationJournal of College Student Development40377395Google Scholar
  16. Consortium for Student Retention Data Exchange.20022001–2002 CSRDE report: The retention and graduation rates in 360 colleges and universitiesUniversity of Oklahoma, Center for Institutional Data Exchange and AnalysisNorman, OKGoogle Scholar
  17. Dey, E. (1991). Community service and critical thinking: An exploratory analysis of collegiate influences. Paper presented at the meeting of the conference on Setting the Agenda for an Effective Research Strategy for Combining Service and Learning in the 1990s, Wingspread Conference Center, Racine, WI.Google Scholar
  18. Dey, E., Hurtado, S., Rhee, B., Inkelas, K. K., Wimsatt, L. A., Guan, F. 1997Improving research on postsecondary outcomes: A review of the strengths and limitations of national data sourcesStanford University, National Center for Postsecondary ImprovementPalo Alto, CAGoogle Scholar
  19. Dumont, R. G., Troelstrup, R. L. 1980Exploring relationships between objective and subjective measures of instructional outcomesResearch in Higher Education123751CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Ewell, P. T. 2002An analysis of relationships between NSSE and selected student learning outcomes measures for seniors attending public institutions in South DakotaNational Center for Higher Education Management StudiesBoulder, COGoogle Scholar
  21. Ewell, P. T. 2005Relating results of the ACT Work Keys and the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE)National Center on Higher Education Management SystemsBoulder, COGoogle Scholar
  22. Facione, N. 1997Critical thinking assessment in nursing education programs: An aggregate data analysisThe California Academic PressMillbrae, CAGoogle Scholar
  23. Facione, P. 1990aThe California Critical Thinking Skills Test-college level technical report 1: Experimental validation and content validityCalifornia Academic PressMillbrae, CAGoogle Scholar
  24. Facione, P. 1990bThe California Critical Thinking Skills Test-college level technical report 2: Factors predictive of critical thinking skillsCalifornia Academic PressMillbrae, CAGoogle Scholar
  25. Facione, P. (1991). Testing college level critical thinking skills. Paper presented at the meeting of the 11th Annual Conference on Critical Thinking and Educational Reform, Sonoma, CA.Google Scholar
  26. Flowers, L. 2000Cognitive effects of college Differences between African-American and Caucasian studentsUnpublished doctoral dissertation University of IowaIowa CityGoogle Scholar
  27. Flowers, L., Osterlind, S., Pascarella, E., Pierson, C. 1999How much do students learn in college? Cross-sectional estimates using the College Basic Academic Subjects ExaminationUnpublished manuscript, University of IowaIowa CityGoogle Scholar
  28. Hansford, B. C., Hattie, J. A. 1982The relationship between self and achievement/performance measuresReview of Educational Research52123142Google Scholar
  29. Hossler, D., Schmit, J., Vesper, N. 1999Going to college: How social, economic, and educational factors influence the decisions students makeJohns Hopkins University PressBaltimore, MDGoogle Scholar
  30. Hurtado, S. 1997Linking diversity with educational purpose: College outcomes associated with diversity in the faculty and student bodyUnpublished manuscript, Harvard Civil Rights Project, Harvard UniversityCambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  31. Johnson, D., Johnson, R. 1995Creative controversy: Intellectual challenge in the classroomInteraction Book CompanyEdina, MNGoogle Scholar
  32. Johnson, D., Johnson, R., Smith, K. 1996Academic controversy: Enriching college instruction through intellectual conflictGeorge Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human DevelopmentWashington, DCGoogle Scholar
  33. Kuh, G. D. 2001, May/JuneAssessing what really matters to student learning: Inside the National Survey of Student EngagementChange 331066Google Scholar
  34. Kuh, G. D. (2005). Imagine asking the client: Using student and alumni surveys for accountability in higher education. In: Burke, J. C. and Associates (ed.), Achieving accountability in higher education: Balancing public, academic, and market demands, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, (pp. 148–172).Google Scholar
  35. Kuh, G. D., Kinzie, J., Schuh, J. H., Whitt, E. J., and Associates (2005). Student success in college: Creating conditions that matter, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  36. Osterlind, S. (1996). Collegians’ scholastic achievement in general education: A national look, Paper presented at the meeting of the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New York.Google Scholar
  37. Osterlind, S. 1997Collegians’ achievement in general education: A national lookGeorge Washington UniversityWashington, DCGoogle Scholar
  38. Pascarella, E. T., Bohr, L., Nora, A., Terenzini, P. T. 1995Cognitive effects of two-year and four-year colleges: New evidenceEducational Evaluation and Policy Analysis178396Google Scholar
  39. Pascarella, E. T., Pierson, C. T., Wolniak, G. C., Terenzini, P. T. 2004First-generation college students: Additional evidence on college experiences and outcomes.Journal of Higher Education75249284Google Scholar
  40. Pascarella, E. T., Smart, J. 1991Impact of intercollegiate athletic participation for African-American and Caucasian men: Some further evidenceJournal of College Student Development32123130Google Scholar
  41. Pascarella, E. T., Terenzini, P. T. 1991How college affects studentsJossey-BassSan FranciscoGoogle Scholar
  42. Pascarella, E. T., Terenzini, P. T. 2005How college affects students (Vol. 2): A third decade of researchJossey-BassSan FranciscoGoogle Scholar
  43. Pascarella, E., Whitt, E., Nora, A., Edison, M., Hagedorn, L., Terenzini, P. 1996What have we learned from the first year of the national study of student learning?Journal of College Student Development37182192Google Scholar
  44. Paulsen, M., St. John, E. 2002Social class and college costs: Examining the financial nexus between college choice and persistenceJournal for Higher Education73189236Google Scholar
  45. Pike, G. R. 1995The relationships between self-reports of college experiences and achievement test scoresResearch in Higher Education36122CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Pike, G. R. 1996Limitations of using students’ self-reports of academic development as proxies for traditional achievement measuresResearch in Higher Education3789114CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Qin, Z., Johnson, D., Johnson, R. 1995Cooperative versus competitive efforts and problem solvingReview of Educational Research65129143Google Scholar
  48. Smart, J., Feldman, K., Ethington, C. 2000Academic disciplines: Holland’s theory and the study of college students and facultyVanderbilt University PressNashville, TNGoogle Scholar
  49. Smith-Saunders, C., and Twale, D. (1997, March). Impact of number and type of core curriculum hours on critical thinking. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, IL.Google Scholar
  50. Smith-Saunders, C., and Twale, D. (1998, April). Further study of the impact of number and type of core curriculum hours on critical thinking. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Education Research Association, San Diego, CA.Google Scholar
  51. Terenzini, P., Cabrera, A., Bernal, E. 2001Swimming against the tide: The poor in American higher educationThe College BoardNew York(College Board Research Report No. 2001–3)Google Scholar
  52. Terenzini, P. T., and Reason, R. D. (2005, November). Parsing the first year of college: A conceptual framework for studying college impact. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education, Philadelphia, PA.Google Scholar
  53. Terenzini, P. T., Springer, L., Pascarella, E. T., Nora, A. 1995Academic and out-of-class influences on students’ intellectual orientationsThe Review of Higher Education192344Google Scholar
  54. Terenzini, P., Springer, L., Yaeger, P., Pascarella, E., and Nora, A. (1994). The multiple influences on students' critical thinking skills. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education, Orlando, FL.Google Scholar
  55. Terenzini, P., Springer, L., Yaeger, P., Pascarella, E., Nora, A. 1996First-generation college students: Characteristics, experiences, and cognitive developmentResearch in Higher Education37122CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Volkwein, J. (1991, November). Improved measures of academic and social integration and their association with measures of student growth. Paper presented at the meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education, Boston, MA.Google Scholar
  57. Whitt, E., Pascarella, E., Pierson, C., Elkins, B., and Marth, B. (In press). Sex and gender in college: Evidence of differences in experiences and outcomes, Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.Google Scholar
  58. Zea, M., Reisen, C., Beil, C., Caplan, R. 1997Predicting intention to remain in college␣among ethnic minority and non-minority studentsJournal of Social Psychology137149160Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert D. Reason
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  • Patrick T. Terenzini
    • 1
  • Robert J. Domingo
    • 2
  1. 1.Center for the Study of Higher EducationPennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  2. 2.Pennsylvania State UniversityUSA
  3. 3.Center for the Study of Higher EducationPennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

Personalised recommendations