sealPurdue News

June 27, 2002

Students opt for beginning college early in Purdue Summer Start

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – "Well begun is half done," a dictum attributed to Aristotle, could serve as a motto for a Purdue University residential summer school program designed to orient students to college life before their first year on campus.

Purdue Summer Start is part of the Lilly Endowment Retention Initiatives project dedicated to preparing incoming undergraduate students for their college experience. The Purdue program runs from June 5 to Aug. 3 on the West Lafayette campus.

"Participation in Purdue Summer Start is correlated with higher initial retention for all students, which is the primary outcome measurement for the program," said Andrew K. Koch, Purdue's Lilly Endowment Retention Initiatives senior project officer.

In 1997 the Lilly Endowment awarded Purdue $5 million to enhance its retention efforts and to meet a goal of increasing Purdue's six-year baccalaureate completion rate by 5 percent at each campus. This is the fifth year of the five-year grant.

The grant funds programs, such as Summer Start, that are designed to increase student interest in attending college. The programs help students adjust academically and socially after they arrive on campus and improve teaching and counseling services for students, Koch said.

"The Summer Start program provides the right mix of academic involvement and social and interpersonal development," said Alicia N. Deckard, Purdue Summer Start supervisor and a Purdue graduate student in college student personnel. "I know this program has helped and will continue to assist students in achieving academic and social success at Purdue."

For Summer Start students, bonding begins at their home for the summer, McCutcheon Hall.

"Living together and perhaps taking the same classes with fellow first-year students, you'll become a member of a close-knit community," Deckard said.

In addition to offering students six to nine hours of course credit, Purdue Summer Start also introduces students to areas and services that will help them in their pursuit of a degree, such as Purdue Libraries, the Writing Lab, the Math Help Room, the Learning Center, Office of the Dean of Students, Purdue University Student Health Center, student clubs and organizations, as well as mentoring and social and cultural experiences to help students adjust to college life.

Upperclassmen, called peer assistant leaders (PALs), live in the residence hall and assist students in their transition to college. PALs offer tutoring services, conduct social activities and provide moral support for new students.

Another benefit for first-year students is the opportunity to interact with faculty and staff. And the experience is not all work – which is a key component to the program's success, Deckard said.

"During Summer Start, you'll discover what it means to be a Boilermaker," she said. "You'll learn about Purdue traditions and songs, as well as what the university has to offer beyond the classroom – concerts, clubs, sports teams and the rest.

"In addition to students taking classes together, we provide plenty of out-of-class opportunities for fun and summer enjoyment. Group activities and trips are also planned."

Ashley Brawner of Elizabethtown, Ky., and Susan Campbell of Mitchell, Ind., are roommates this summer. Brawner is studying engineering; Campbell, management. Both women said they are glad to be participating in the Summer Start experience.

"It's pretty cool," Brawner said. "You get to meet new people and become familiar with the campus. My parents urged me to start early and get some credits out of the way. So far I've had a really good time."

Campbell agreed.

"It is definitely beneficial," she said. "I am trying to complete my degree early, and this is a good way to ease into college. And it's not all work. I had a lot of fun on the canoe trip we took. The recreational activities are good for getting to know people."

For Jonathan Vernon of Brookville, Ind., Summer Start has been a worthwhile, if eye-opening, experience. The freshman engineering student wanted to get a head start on his engineering education and learn about services and resources on campus that are outlined in the summer program's non-credit seminars.

"I thought this program was a great idea so I could concentrate on my classes instead of my transition," Vernon said. "But it is more work than I expected. The classes are hard, and there is a lot of work. But it's good to know that now I won't have to do this in the fall when I'm taking 16 to 18 hours. I'll be better prepared. And I'm meeting the challenges. It's definitely time well spent."

The ability to attract and retain a diverse student body is another measurement of Purdue Summer Start's success – as it is of the retention initiatives program as a whole. Koch said research findings indicate that minority students participating in Summer Start have higher initial retention rates than those students who do not participate in the program.

The racial composition of participants in the Purdue Summer Start program from 1999 to 2000 compared to the university's undergraduate population for 1999 to 2000 and 2000 to 2001 reflect this goal's success.

African-Americans made up 12.7 percent of the Summer Start group and 3.3 of the undergraduate student body in 1999 to 2000 and 2000-01. Asian-Americans made up 12.7 percent of the Summer Start population and 3.4 percent of the undergraduate student body during that same period.

Total minority participation in the Summer Start program in those years was 28.1 percent compared to 9.1 percent of the student body. International students made up 23.6 percent of the Summer Start participants and 6.1 percent of the undergraduate population.

Initial retention rates from the first to second semester were 2 percent higher for minority students that participated in Summer Start. First to third semester retention rates for the same group was 4 percent higher than for minority students who did not participate in the program.

The 42 students in this summer's eight-week academic and social college orientation program are enrolled in six to nine hours of regular academic coursework. Student are enrolled in eight different schools or areas: engineering, science, agriculture, liberal arts, management , consumer and family sciences, technology and pharmacy.

Of the students participating in this summer's program there are:

• 28 males and 14 females.

• 28 Caucasian and 14 non-Caucasian students.

• 20 students from out of state, 19 from Indiana and three from other countries.

Thanks to the partnership between Purdue and the Lilly Endowment, learning communities like Summer Start are making a difference for students, Koch said.

"Purdue's retention rates are up 4.8 percent across the system," he said. "We are raising the degree attainment level at the university, and we're improving the overall well-being of the state by raising educational levels.

"In total, it is expected that when all the retention programs have been implemented fully, over 400 additional students will earn Purdue University baccalaureate degrees each year, systemwide. Over the first decade of the 21st century, these programs can yield an additional 4,000 Purdue University baccalaureate degrees."

Beyond the numbers, Koch said there is another degree of success he measures on a one-to-one basis.

"We're helping these students succeed."

Writer: Grant Flora, (765) 494-2073;

Sources: Andrew K. Koch, (765) 496-3618,

Alicia N. Deckard, Purdue Summer Start Supervisor, (765)496-3754,

Ashley Brawner, student, (765) 495-3565

Susan Campbell, student, (765) 495-3565

Jonathan Vernon, student (765) 495-3572

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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