Social integration is a critical piece to first-year college student's retention. Understanding soft skills helps students acclimate better to college social life, and helps colleges retain their students through to graduation.
Decades of research on student retention has revealed that each student experiences higher education differently. Learning institutions have a vested interest in improving that experience, namely because retention boosts their bottom line. Beyond this, it is important for a student's success that the transition from high school to college be as smooth as possible.
A student’s adjustment within the first year of post-secondary education is crucial, as this is when learning institutions experience the greatest drop-out rates. Past research has focused on student demographics such as race, economics, gender, even birth order. More recently, researchers are examining students’ personality traits, as these traverse all demographic aspects of a student’s make-up and ultimately reveal much more about a student’s adjustment capacity.
For many students, improving the quality of college life may reside less in academics or economics, and more with social acclimation. Studies show that students often drop out of college because they don’t feel socially integrated or can’t adapt as rapidly as other students.
Simply making student organizations available may not be enough. School orientation programs that effectively bridge the gap between high-school and college not only provide social opportunities, like student organizations, but also provide other services designed to help students make “good connections” or “plug them in” to the right organizations.
Individual student soft-skills identification and training:
First year students are faced with making some of the most critical decisions of their life to-date. Yet, students lack the basis for making these decisions -- self-knowledge. Each personality style has basic task and relational needs. Students can’t possibly know what they want to do for the rest of their working life until they know and understand what makes them tick and what vocations will fulfill the needs of their personality.
Nor can students fully know what kind of lifestyle that will become fulfilling, until they realize how they are motivated and fulfilled emotionally. Values styles, personal preferences and passions will reveal and indicate avocations or lifestyle choices that can indicate career directions. Many variables go into choices, therefore many variables about basic personal preferences should be explored initially in student soft-skills training.
Group opportunities for soft-skills integration and “ice breaking”:
In addition to soft-skills identification and training for individual students, student groups need opportunities to explore differences and similarities in personalities, work values, life passions and motivations. Soft-skills identification should include soft-skills integration and group activities so that students can not only meet others who share their interests in certain student activities, but also who share their work values, personal passions and similar personality styles.
Many ice breaker activities around soft skills can be offered and presented to students during school orientation. Student services and career development programs can offer alternative ways to get students to understand and use the knowledge of their soft-skills, and reach socially at-risk students during ice breaker activities on campus.
Hard skills are taught in all learning institutions, but soft skills training should be offered to students to help fully integrate and acclimate students to their new social environment, improve college retention, and enhance student strength-identification, emotional intelligence, study skills, and even enhancing GPAs.