Remembering the Days – Sink or Swim: The Newbie Lifeguard Course – UofSC News & Events – 71Bait

Memory of the Days Episode 50

Fifty years ago it was not uncommon for professors to hear the speech “Look left, look right – one of you will have failed by the end of the semester”. But exactly 50 years ago, Carolina tried something different: a course designed to make freshman students feel like they belonged, along with the academic tools they needed to succeed. It was called University 101 and became a model for hundreds of colleges across the country.


“Welcome to the first day of class. This is one of the most difficult courses in the entire university, so look left and then right. The students on either side of you probably won’t be here by the end of the semester because traditionally two-thirds of my students will fail!” Professor laughs demonic.

Depending on when you were in college, it’s possible you’ve heard a variation of this speech — OK, probably without the demonic laughter — but you know what I mean, that old professor’s “sink or swim” motivational speech , who may not have cared whether you went down or swam.

I’m Chris Horn, your host for Remembering the Days, and today we’re looking back at a pivotal moment 50 years ago when the University of South Carolina introduced an experimental course called University 101 that ultimately helped change the way it did Everywhere, like colleges and universities, thought about their freshmen.

But let’s go back for a moment. What prompted Carolina to found University 101 half a century ago? Remember, there were a lot of things happening back then that made students nervous: the Vietnam War was going on, and no one wanted to drop out of college and get drafted. Additionally, Carolina’s enrollment had grown exponentially in a very short period of time, and many students felt the campus had become impersonal.

There were other factors too – you can listen to Month of May 1970 for a refresher – and it all came to a head in May 1970 when students stormed Osborne’s administration building. The National Guard was called in to quell the riot with tear gas. After that commotion, the university’s president, Tom Jones, envisioned a different paradigm — one in which Carolina would treat her students, especially her freshmen, like VIPs. And that was radical thinking back then.

John Gardner, 2nd: That was a remarkable statement for USC, because I’ll tell you, in 1974, most colleges didn’t say freshmen were VIPs. They said bring her in and let her out. You know, it was just a churn. And the whole idea was to measure your institutional quality by how rigorous and tough and demanding you were. And you didn’t want to keep all the students you brought with you. And you know, we thought that was ridiculous. You said these people were qualified. You admitted them. You have taken their hopes, their dreams and their money, and you must do as much as you can for them. And so the real USC message here was that freshmen are VIPs, very important people.

This is John Gardner, the professor charged with founding University 101 in 1972. The course he and others put together was designed to introduce freshmen to library, tutoring, and other student support programs. But, perhaps more importantly, it became a place where students could connect and develop a sense of belonging. Another benefit was that it helped faculty members better understand their young students.

To promote the new course, Gardner created an annual conference called The Freshman Year Experience. Representatives from hundreds of colleges and universities attended these conferences, and after studying Carolina’s U101 course, began their own versions of it.

Gardner also founded the Center for the Freshman Year Experience, which has done a lot of research over the years about what makes freshman students tick and how to help them succeed. The University of South Carolina essentially became a pioneer when it came to thinking about freshmen and the unique challenges they face in their freshman year.

Dan Friedman: And this idea has really spread all over the world now. But in the United States, we know that 74% of colleges and universities offer some form of first-year courses, many of which are based on the so-called South Carolina model.

This is Dan Friedman, the current director of University 101, and did you hear what he said about the South Carolina model? This university, our U101 course, became a model for hundreds of other institutions.

Dan Friedman: It’s really not about helping students survive college. It’s about being successful at university, how do you make the most of your four very short years? And so I think it’s honorable and respectful to invest with whatever talent you have. So you see, Fortune 500 companies are doing that. The military does. Any good organization will invest in the people it has. And part of that is an intentional onboarding experience so they understand how to make that transition into that environment.

One of the reasons for investing in freshman success is practicality. It costs colleges less to hire qualified students and retain them through sophomores, juniors, and senior years than it does to recruit them and then watch many of them fail due to lack of support. How exactly has U101 helped freshman students succeed over the years?

Dan Friedman: We’ve known for 50 years that students who take the course return at significantly higher rates for their sophomore year, but no one has been able to answer why. So what is it about this experience that makes you want to stay? When I got here, the first thing I did was do a research study looking at this. And we found that the most important predictor of a student’s decision to stay was a sense of belonging.

When the U101 course was offered in Carolina in the 1970s, all sections were taught by faculty members or staff. Today, the instructors are supported by students called peer leaders – they are either juniors or seniors who graduated from U101 as freshmen and have excelled in their studies. I spoke to a few peer leaders about what they are doing to encourage a sense of belonging in their U101 classes. This is Sully Hutto, a senior major in psychology.

Sully Hutto: I think people are often emotionally driven. So if you give them something to feel good about and give them an experience they’ll find worthwhile, then they’re much more likely to keep going. So if you start your fall semester at Carolina studying, what are the traditions at USC? What do we value? Who are we? What do we think you should be as a Carolinian? And these are all things that we go through with them as part of our curriculum on top of the academic resources and all that stuff. But that is hardwired into U101.

Yasmin Balogun is an aspiring senior planning to study medicine. She says the U101 course turns confident freshmen into solid sophomores.

Yasmen Balogun: I think the confidence that comes from that is really important. I think it would be missed by many freshmen without U101 because that’s the only place you can be sure of getting it. And it’s a course like everything else, you do it two or three times a week, you’ll definitely have it for the first semester.

So the next time you talk to someone about freshman education, remember that the University of South Carolina pioneered the founding of University 101 50 years ago. That is why the university has such a high priority for its undergraduate programs today.

Next time, on Remembering the Days, we’ll address a myth created 54 years ago about the naming of the university’s Capstone House dorm. It’s a fun story you’ll want to hear.

Until then, I’m Chris Horn, see you in a few weeks and forever.

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Topics: history

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