I’m busy working on my speech to our new first year undergraduate students. I’ve had a chance to talk with many of these students when they were applicants — first as part of junior open houses and next as part of fall open houses (which are geared to seniors) and finally as part of admitted student days. My message at those times is very clear — Hofstra provides an outstanding undergraduate education and here are the reasons why Hofstra is the right choice for you.
The upcoming student speech is both easier and harder. It is easier in that these students have selected Hofstra and they and their families already value what we offer. It is harder in that this is a critical time in the life of these new students and all of us want their college education to best serve their future needs, both personal as well as professional.
Any message to new students must stress the value of the institution. For me, respect for diversity and academic honesty are at the top of the list. In respect for diversity, I think higher education has made significant strides. Not only is the college going population more diverse, students seem much more comfortable with and embracing of diversity. In academic honesty, there is clearly still much work to do. Students come to college often having cheated in middle and high school and are fully conversant in the use of technology to assist in this practice. I especially worry that as the standards for passing tests in middle and high school are ratcheted up substantially, sometimes for no other purpose than to demonstrate higher standards (without first providing a better education), we are increasing the likelihood of cheating. At the very least, we are increasing the likelihood of teaching to the test which also doesn’t foster learning. When these students come to college, we need to both educate them fully as to why academic dishonesty is simply wrong but also make sure the penalty for academic dishonesty is a deterrent to any future dishonesty.
The message to these incoming students needs to be much more than a focus on institutional values. It needs to stress the opportunity that college provides to explore options, try something new, challenge yourself, enjoy yourself, broaden your horizons, and sharpen your career focus. Going to college with blinders on is the wrong view. This is also the time to succeed in managing your time. A student can’t do it all; we simply offer too many alternatives both inside as well as outside of the classroom.
All of these messages need to be delivered briefly, with humor as well as relevance to the students involved. Therein lays the challenge to deliver the important messages while making sure the students are as receptive as possible. We owe it to our students to succeed in doing so.
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