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Universities Emphasize Orientation Programs

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Columbia, SC--As the decline in the number of high-school seniors increases the difficulty of attracting and retaining freshmen, colleges and universities are reassessing their orientation programs.

Earlier this month, 350 educators from 76 postsecondary institutions gathered at the University of South Carolina (U.S.C.) for a national conference on "The Freshman Year Experience."

"High-school graduates should learn that they are in great demand in higher education," said John Gardner, director of U.S.C.'s orientation program and organizer of the conference.

Mr. Gardner noted that the com-petition for students is prompting many colleges to develop new services and activities designed to help freshmen make a smooth transition from high school to campus.

Among these, he noted, are orientation courses on how a university operates and what student services are offered; orientation programs for parents; summer orientation and registration programs; placement tests; testing programs for academic credit; survival guides; special living arrangments and academic divisions for freshmen; courses on how to develop study skills; and counseling services. Although colleges are developing various methods of "lavishing attention on freshmen," Mr. Gardner said, the most popular approach is still the orientation course, which often is required.

U.S.C.'s "University 101," one of the early programs, has been implemented in more than 25 colleges since its inception in 1972, he said.

A number of universities--Louisiana State and Michigan State, for example--place freshmen in a special academic division that uses orientation programs, learning resource centers, and academic advisers to help students with academic and social questions, speakers said. Others, like Emory University, combine residential life and academic programs in one location.

"High-school counselors can play an important role in informing their students of these services, and many college educators would be happy to assist them," Mr. Gardner added.

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