|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Monday, November 15, 2004
San Luis Obispo Tribune 11-15-04
Not in high school anymore
Jeff Hammerquist was accustomed to getting top grades last year as a senior at The Overlake School, a private prep school in Bellevue, Wash.
This year, as a freshman architecture student at Cal Poly, he's discovered the need to kick it up a notch.
His first paper in English composition came back with an unfamiliar letter on it. Hammerquist said he doesn't remember the grade but has not forgotten his reaction.
"That ... was a wake-up call," he said.
The 18-year-old's experience is fairly common for college freshmen, which is typically a life-altering experience, according to Susan Sparling, director of Cal Poly's Student Academic Services.
"They're changing their support systems, when they eat, what they eat ... everything," she said. "We're not in Kansas anymore."
Nearly one in four college freshmen drop out during their first year attending California State University campuses, according to CSU figures. That is slightly better than the national figure. About 10 percent of those who leave go to community colleges for remedial work before returning to a state campus.
Nationwide, slightly more than half of all college students earn a degree at the university they started at as freshmen, according to national figures.
Cal Poly students graduate at a higher rate than the CSU and national average, but university officials would like to see it higher.
So far more attention than usual is being paid to freshmen and transfer students, said Cornel Morton, the university's vice president for student affairs.
"We're working hard this year, especially on first-year students, to communicate to them the expectations about university life and the responsibilities that go with it," Morton said.
"These kids are coming to a far more complex place than many of them are able to acknowledge at first."
More complex is an apt description for Hammerquist's discovery.
"I didn't do a lot of homework in high school," particularly as a senior, Hammerquist said.
Calculus came easily to him in high school, he said, but his college calculus class is significantly more challenging and faster-paced.
"That was definitely a change I had to make," Hammerquist said. "The tests are more demanding. You can't slack off on the studying as much."
The other three students in the "Freshman Year" series have faced their own academic challenges in their first quarter.
Daniel Coudray, an agriculture student from San Luis Obispo, said the dreaded mid-terms were not as bad as he expected.
"Granted, I only had mid-terms for one class this quarter," he said. "I did have to study quite a bit, though."
Like Hammerquist, Coudray has not had to pull any all-nighters, studying until dawn. Neither has Santa Maria's Jessica Becker, who is a child development major.
That's not as easily said for aerospace engineering students like Liliana Cerrillo, from La Puente.
"As for all-nighters, I've pulled quite a few since school started and, needless to say, in high school I never did this," she said. "I all of a sudden enter college and here I am studying or doing homework at four in the morning."
All four freshmen are putting in more hours studying than they did last year as seniors, and they've had to find somewhere besides their bedrooms at home to study in.
Coudray, who could go home across town if he wanted, tries to find a quiet place on campus.
"As basic as that sounds, it was quite challenging to find places that would work, but I managed to camp out at the library or the study lounge here in the dorms," he said.
"The part that is harder is that you have to study more outside of class, because of the rate at which you learn new information. I'm starting to get a better feel for it now that the first quarter is just about over, so I'll be able to do better next quarter."
Hammerquist has noticed another big difference between higher and secondary education -- the more collegial relationships between professors and students.
"It's an appropriate dynamic for a college, since everybody is an adult, or at least thinks they are," he said.
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