Cengage Learning Survey Reveals College Instructor Views on Challenges Facing First-Year Students

Lack of Time-Management Skills and Lack of Academic Preparedness for College Are Among Challenges Faced by First-Year Students at Four-Year Universities and Community Colleges

Cengage Learning, one of the leading providers of print and digital instructional and reference materials for the higher education and library reference markets, today released survey results highlighting issues first-year college students face. Instructors from four-year universities and community colleges revealed their thoughts on what students must overcome in order to have a successful college career. The survey indicated most instructors view time management skills and the ability to balance academics with life outside of the classroom as key areas for improvement for first-year students. The survey also revealed a decline in student preparedness for college in the last 10 years, according to instructors.

The Cengage Learning survey was conducted over a seven-week period and included a qualified pool of 554 college instructors, professors and department chairpersons at both four-year universities and community colleges, and asked them to identify key factors influencing the success of new college students. The survey was provided through an email link to ensure anonymous data collection.

“For many, the first-year experience is trying and frustrating, due to a number of common problems, and can all-too-often result in poor retention of students,” said John N. Gardner, the founding executive director of the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition at University of South Carolina and North Carolina-based Policy Center on the First Year of College. He is also co-author of Your College Experience: Strategies for Success, 8th Edition (Wadsworth, Cengage Learning). “It is imperative to identify the challenges faced by incoming students at varying higher education institutions and to offer support in order to enhance their learning experience and ability to succeed in their new environments. Students need to be introduced to these issues and the ways in which to successfully cope, thus ensuring they are properly prepared to tackle new student hurdles and to earn the ultimate fruit of their labor – a degree.”

Dr. Constance Staley, the author of FOCUS on College Success, 1st Edition (Wadsworth, Cengage Learning), professor of Communication, and Director of the Freshman Seminar Program at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs notes, “Issues of academic preparedness aside, it’s challenging for today’s first-year students to focus. In a fast-paced world with competing demands and distractions and more students working while getting an education, many struggle with the three P’s: procrastination, prioritization, and perfectionism. Some have achieved prior academic success, sometimes without significant investment, and optimistically, they expect similar results in college. Some don’t turn in assignments because they’re ‘not ready,’ meaning not yet ‘perfected.’ Some are overwhelmed by all they have to do and struggle with where to direct their attention. First-Year Seminar courses can help students refine their skills, develop realistic goals, navigate complex curricular requirements, and balance competing demands. Academic support centers on college campuses can make all the difference, too, if students will take advantage of the opportunities in place for them.”

Key survey findings include:

  • Ninety-one percent of university survey respondents said students were not doing well or are struggling to balance academics with a social life. More than 95 percent of community college survey respondents agreed.
  • Nearly 64 percent of university survey respondents and nearly 72 percent of community college survey respondents said preparedness for college has declined in the past 10 years, indicating a common frustration between the two differing types of institutions.
  • University instructors see that the three most common challenges for their first-year students include time-management issues (nearly 79 percent), difficulties developing in-class skills (more than 48 percent), and difficulties developing general life skills and facing new responsibilities (39 percent).
  • On the other hand, community college instructors said their first-year students are challenged by preparing for and taking exams (61 percent) and developing in-class skills (73 percent), in addition to balancing academics with a social life (66 percent). However, they struggle the most (nearly 82 percent) to balance academics and work.
  • According to more than 80 percent of university survey respondents, the best habit to develop for academic success is utilizing campus resources. Respondents agreed that students should use a planner or calendar (more than 62 percent for university and nearly 74 percent for community college) to prioritize their schedules.
  • With regard to creating a rich and successful social life on campus, only 1.3 percent of university survey respondents and none of the community college survey respondents recommended new college students use social networks. More than 61 percent of university survey respondents and 38 percent of community college survey respondents did recommend, however, that students join campus activities and groups of interest to them.
  • According to 65 percent of university survey respondents, first-year students likely feel pressure from their on-campus peers to socialize. More than 60 percent of respondents also acknowledged that their first-year students likely feel pressure from their on-campus peers to drink alcoholic beverages.

For complete survey results from Cengage Learning’s College Success survey or for additional information on this or future surveys, please contact Tomomi Melton at [email protected].

About Cengage Learning

Cengage Learning delivers highly customized learning solutions for colleges, universities, professors, students, libraries, government agencies, corporations and professionals around the world. These solutions are delivered through specialized content, applications and services that foster academic excellence, professional development, and measurable learning outcomes. Cengage Learning’s existing company and imprint brands include Heinle, Gale, Wadsworth, Delmar Learning, Brooks/Cole and South-Western, among others. For more information on Cengage Learning please visit www.cengage.com.