Speaking at the final Fac­ulty Senate meeting of the fall semester, Bruce Ronkin, Northeastern’s vice provost for under­grad­uate edu­ca­tion, deliv­ered high­lights of a year­long endeavor to improve the first-​​year expe­ri­ence for the university’s increas­ingly tal­ented pool of incoming students.

The freshman class is becoming an increas­ingly strong aca­d­emic unit,” Ronkin said. “It’s impor­tant for us to rec­og­nize the needs of our stu­dents and find the best ways to meet them.”

Ronkin’s pre­sen­ta­tion comes after a lengthy exam­i­na­tion of the North­eastern first-​​year expe­ri­ence aimed at exploring ways incoming stu­dents could be best served by the uni­ver­sity. He first dis­cussed the topic with the Fac­ulty Senate last November.

Many changes focused on better serving the growing cohort of inter­na­tional students—who this year rep­re­sented 14.6 per­cent of the incoming class, com­pared with 3.6 per­cent in 2006—and cre­ating new oppor­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents in the Uni­ver­sity Honors Pro­gram, which has grown in recent years as the pro­file of stu­dents con­tinues to rise. This year’s incoming class had an average SAT score of 1360, up 130 points from six years ago; honors stu­dents, who now make up 17.7 per­cent of the freshman class, have an average SAT score of 1459.

Ronkin pre­sented university-​​wide responses to a series of rec­om­men­da­tions from the Senate Com­mittee for Enroll­ment and Admis­sions Poli­cies, drafted early this year. Rec­om­men­da­tions included ini­tia­tives to help col­leges com­mu­ni­cate their best prac­tices for freshman-​​year edu­ca­tion, diag­nostic screening for stu­dents whose native lan­guage is not Eng­lish, cur­riculum review to ensure courses meet the needs of the stu­dent body, and pro­grams to fur­ther chal­lenge stu­dents in the honors pro­gram or those who enter the uni­ver­sity with a high number of AP or IB credits.

Much of the work, Ronkin said, has been done at the col­lege level, allowing dif­ferent dis­ci­plines to find ways to best serve their students.

We had a com­mittee in the col­lege that looked at enriching the freshman expe­ri­ence and one of the things we kept hearing was ‘more under­grad­uate research sooner,’” said Murray Gibson, dean of the Col­lege of Sci­ence, describing one of the dis­cus­sions hap­pening in his aca­d­emic unit. “While it’s a com­plex issue—there are ques­tions of not just space, but ensuring there are fac­ulty mem­bers and grad­uate stu­dents to mentor these students—we all under­stand that issues like these are essen­tial to what we’re trying to do.”

Sev­eral fac­ulty mem­bers, par­tic­u­larly those in the human­i­ties, expressed con­cerns that an increased number of honors courses would lead stu­dents to focus their aca­d­emic atten­tion into their dis­ci­plines and would leave some courses with low enrollment.

Is every­thing entirely student-​​driven or is there some direc­tion that could range from sug­ges­tion to insis­tence that honors stu­dents take cer­tain courses or per­haps a cer­tain group of courses?” asked Senate Agenda Com­mittee chair Richard Day­nard, Uni­ver­sity Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of Law. “This could maybe go into the issue of dis­tri­b­u­tion require­ments and the goal of having stu­dents take courses across dis­ci­plines, versus just the field in which they’ve declared their majors.”