Governors State University (GSU) has filled its freshman program entirely with full-time professors as part of an effort to pair GSU’s most vulnerable learners—many of them first-generation college students from low-income households—with some of its most experienced educators.
“The hardest courses to teach are the freshman courses—that’s where you’re introducing students to critical thinking and writing and initiating them to the academy,” GSU President Elaine Maimon recently told Inside Higher Ed.
GSU was founded as a senior university, where transfer students entered as juniors. With the introduction of its first freshman class in 2014, administrators set out to develop a strong first-year curriculum from the start.
In addition to requiring a number of full-time professors to teach at least one freshman class per year, GSU also developed a new first-year general education program that included core themes, learning communities and smaller class sizes. Adjuncts are still vital to the university, but they are now placed in upper-level courses where they have pertinent real-world experience, such as in marketing or education.
The initiative has certainly met challenges, but early figures show retention rates at about 10 percent higher than similar institutions.
GSU’s freshman program remains a bold path for the poorly funded public university outside of Chicago—to date, Illinois hasn’t passed its 2015-16 budget, leaving GSU and its peers without state funding.