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California universities get midyear infusion of new students

With thousands of California students new to campus at midyear, universities are doing more to help them get oriented. Doing so is believed to help them succeed.

January 23, 2012|By Carla Rivera, Los Angeles Times
  • Orientation sessions are increasingly being required of students newly arriving on campuses for spring terms, like these four recently at Cal State Long Beach.
Orientation sessions are increasingly being required of students newly… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

Chris Lewis hunkered down in front of a laptop at Cal State Long Beach, determined to find a few open psychology classes.

The pickings were somewhat slim.

But for Lewis and nearly 1,000 other spring semester enrollees on campus, filling out a schedule isn't the only challenge: They must navigate an academic and social landscape that, for the vast majority of other students, has been in full swing since fall.

More than 60,300 applications were submitted to the California State University system's spring term, which gets underway Monday. The vast majority are community college transfers; and typically, between 15,000 and 20,000 of those enroll.

The ability of these spring students to integrate into campus life can affect not only their grades but also whether they stay in school. So an increasing number of campuses, including Long Beach, are requiring that all students — whether entering in the fall or midyear — participate in orientation sessions.

"The assumption with returning students is that everyone is on the same wavelength," said Ken Kelly, director of student transition and orientation programs at Cal State Long Beach. "We want to provide the new students the same experience so that they feel more acclimated."

Incoming students at Long Beach take a walking tour of the school, set up an email account, learn about campus security and health services, watch a video on alcohol awareness and are given key dates, such as the deadline to pay tuition and fees.

For several days at the start of the spring semester, the campus will operate so-called lifeguard stations — information booths at main thoroughfare intersections — where peer advisors will be available to answer questions or give directions to lost students.

At Cal State Fullerton, students are required to go through in-person or online orientation before they can register for classes, spokeswoman Paula Selleck said. The school is expecting about 1,600 new enrollees for the spring semester.

Because continuing students get the first crack at registering for classes, it can be harder for those enrolling midyear to fill out their schedules.

That has been a growing concern in recent years, as campuses have eliminated thousands of class times and offerings in the face of state budget cuts.

Randy Matos said the information he received during an orientation at Cal State L.A. eased his transition to the campus, one of the few still on a quarter system. Classes there started Jan. 9.

"I was one of the fortunate ones to be able to enroll in the classes I needed," said Matos, 22, an East Los Angeles College transfer and business major who also works as a bank teller.

At the recent Long Beach orientation, several peer advisors were on hand to help students find required classes and fill out their schedules.

Popular courses that still had space open included ones on human sexuality and comic spirit. The latter, a comparative literature class, examines comedy and the theory of laughter in literature, music, art and films.

Jaclyn Fauls got into a fiction-and-film class that ticked a lot of boxes for the English literature major, who is also a film buff. But a class in Shakespeare that she wanted was closed.

Lewis enrolled in a psychology of emotion class, advanced psychology and psychopharmacology, but found that he would have to wait until next semester — when he will have a higher registration priority — to get more classes he needs to graduate.

The junior transfer from Orange Coast College said that after getting lost a few times on the sprawling 322-acre campus, he planned to take a tour.

"I'm really looking forward to getting back to a university life, rather than just community college," said Lewis, 23. "I feel like I can get more involved here and broaden my horizons."

Making social connections can be a challenge, especially for transfer students who tend to be older and are more likely to have jobs and families.

"The socializing part is as important as the academic part," Kelly said. "If students are not joining clubs or meeting with other people, they're missing part of the college life and they're less likely to stay."

Lewis, a former lifeguard, is considering joining the water polo team.

"I don't want to go through life," he said, "wondering what more could I have done in college."

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