A Studied Effort to Ease College Transitions

By Stephanie M. Foote, Ph.D. November 27, 2013    Stephanie M. Foote intimately…

Georgia (Dec 2, 2013)

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November 27, 2013 

Stephanie M. Foote intimately understands the challenges to adjusting to college. After a dismal freshman year, she had to transfer from Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., to Coastal Carolina University—a jarring experience for a high school student who had found getting good grades rather easy.

Stephanie Foote is an associate professor in education at Kennesaw State University and director of its forthcoming master of science program in First Year and Transition Studies. (Courtesy photo)Since that humbling experience, she has dedicated her life to addressing the issues of adjustment and retention of first-year collegians. Now an education professor at Kennesaw State University, 25 miles north of Atlanta, she works in its Department of First-Year and Transition Studies and is directing the launch of a master's of science degree in first-year studies that will start in autumn 2015. For 11 consecutive years, U.S. News & World Report has ranked Kennesaw State in the top 10 for first-year programs.

Nationally the trends are for an increasingly diverse student body, including a rise in first-generation collegians and community college transfers. For instance, 69 percent of Hispanic high school graduates last May are in a two- or four-year program this fall, up 30 percent since 2000. Accompanying that demographic infusion is the need to offer programs and services to ensure the social and academic success of students from varied cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds.

The title of Foote's 2009 University of South Carolina dissertation was "A Multi-Campus Study of the Perceived Effects of First-Year Seminars on the Experience of Students in Their First Semester of College." Previously she directed the Academic Success Center and First-Year Experience at the University of South Carolina (Aiken) and now edits the Journal of College Orientation and Transition. 

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

The idea of the new graduate program is rooted in our culture. My department is unique because we have tenured and tenure-track faculty dedicated to teaching first-year seminars, one of the fewtwo that we are aware of in the country. [The four seminar choices required of students with fewer than 30 credit hours emphasize "life skills, strategies for academic success, campus and community connections, and foundations for global learning."]

Our former president, Betty Siegel, [who stepped down in 2006] was the catalyst for the development of my department in 2007, and in many ways, the graduate program acknowledges her vision for student success and especially for first-year students.

Although the transition to the first college year has long been a concern in higher education, the growing body of empirical evidence demonstrates that the first year really matters. And one key to making a difference at this critical point is to train faculty and staff in more meaningful ways.  …


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu