Wednesday August 9, 2006

'Undecided' Becoming More Popular Major

University administrators say the number increases each year and it appears that way nationwide. UD hopes learning-living communities clear path for declaring a major.

Of the nearly 1,800 first-year students entering the University of Dayton later this month, nearly 700 - 39 percent - have labeled their majors "undecided."

University administrators say the number increases each year and it appears that way nationwide. At some schools - the University of Florida and Valparaiso University - "undeclared" is called "exploratory."

"In the past, college was about preparing for a job," said Christine Schramm, UD assistant dean of students. "For millennial students, they have gone to high school, done a million activities and they then decide what to do once they arrive on campus. Millennials have been told, 'You'll figure it out in college.' It is not that undecided students are not focused. They have been very focused in sports, leadership or service at the high school level."

UD has special advisers and a section of the First-Year Experience program specifically for undecided students. UD's sophomore orientation program in the College of Arts and Sciences helps keep students engaged in their professional and personal growth. Some administrators nationally call sophomores the "lost class" because of being between the first and third years, when most students start heading toward graduation.

UD's undecided majors might get an idea of what they want by being placed in one of the 18 learning-living communities that cluster students with like academic interests, according to Schramm.

"'Undecided' students can benefit from learning-living communities. It allows them to 'try on' a potential major by living with students who are taking particular classes or have like interests," Schramm said. "Our hope is they will focus on a interest to identify a major and develop an academic purpose for being in college. We've found that community living helps challenge thoughts."

This is the first year all first-year students will reside in learning-living communities. Participants in last year's pilot communities said they liked the experience. They noted they easily formed study groups to discuss course material and formed friendships quickly.

The University of Miami and University of Central Arkansas are among the schools that have a sophomore orientation. Stanford has a residence hall to address second-year concerns such as choosing careers, declaring majors and giving academics greater attention.

The University of Texas student newspaper reports the school might create a new advising center to serve undecided students. Ohio University created the Majors Fair that attracts nearly 1,000 students and more than 50 representatives from throughout campus.

For those UD students who know what they want to do, business finance and civil engineering are the majors that have seen notable increases - 42 and 68 percent, respectively - among UD's first-year students. Communication, pre-med, mechanical engineering, early childhood education and chemical engineering remain popular as well.

Engineering majors will have tablet computers, rather than the traditional notebook computers. Tablets allow students to write formulas on the screen and sketch diagrams. Also for the first time, they have the option of entering the MBA-Ready Program, which will allow them to take 25 more credit hours of courses to receive a minor in business. They will be prepared to complete their MBA with one additional year of full-time coursework.

The incoming first-year students, all of whom are required to read the book Enough, about staying human in an engineered age, are on average virtually as smart as last year's record class that averaged a 25.5 on the ACT and 1167 on the SAT.

There will be seven times the number of international students and a little more than one-third more Asian and Pacific Islanders on campus, some of whom will be living in UD's undergraduate international learning and living communities.

For more experienced students, there is a new graduate degree option in the School of Education and Allied Professions. School of Education Dean Thomas J. Lasley II said the doctoral program in physical therapy has exceeded its projected enrollment goal by 15 percent.

For more information on the start of the 2006-07 school year, contact Shawn Robinson at 937-229-3391 or the UD Office of Public Relations at 937-229-3241. First-year University of Dayton students move in their residence halls on Thursday, Aug. 17. Classes begin Monday, Aug. 21.