Berea’s New Freshmen Experience Some Big Changes in their First Year of College

One major adjustment freshmen face is getting lower grades than they did in high school. Over half of new freshmen reported having an “A” average in their last year of high school but only 17% made that claim about their college GPA in the spring term of their freshman year.

Berea College freshmen also report a substantial reduction in performing volunteer work. While nearly 90% worked as volunteers in high school, only 63% claimed doing so in their first college year.

These results are based on the entering class of 2004 and come from two national surveys that we use at Berea College. The first is given to entering new freshmen in the fall and a follow-up is given to those same students in the spring of their first year. Both surveys were created by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) and are designed to monitor national trends in students’ backgrounds, beliefs, experiences and activities related to their social, political, and academic lives. Trend data for the survey go back to the 1960s.

Comparing students’ experiences from high school to college, Berea’s new freshmen, like their peers at similar colleges:

  • are less likely to attend a religious service since entering college
  • are less likely to report maintaining a healthy diet and exercising
  • rate themselves as more cooperative, creative, and emotionally healthy overall
  • rate themselves as having a greater self-understanding after a few months of college
  • are more likely to consider it essential to keep up with political affairs.

Unlike their peers at similar institutions, Berea’s freshmen report drinking less beer, wine, and liquor in high school (34% versus 55%) and Berea students reduce their overall drinking in their first year of college. And, in contrast to most other college freshmen across the country, Berea freshmen are more likely to report socializing with someone of another racial/ethnic group than they did in high school.

At Berea, freshman men and women differ in some major ways. At Berea, men’s intellectual self-confidence decreases dramatically (-25%) in the first year whereas women’s perceptions increase substantially (+15%). In contrast, students at other nonsectarian (not church affiliated) four-year colleges show that men’s ratings drop only slightly while women’s increase but only by a small margin.

However, men’s ratings of their own cooperativeness and leadership ability both increase greatly (+22%) while women’s ratings increase only slightly. In contrast, the ratings from men and women at comparison institutions change very little.

At Berea, men’s ratings of their own self-understanding do not change at all while women’s ratings increase by over 20%. The national data show only modest changes for both men and women. And, Berea men’s ratings of how important it is to develop a meaningful philosophy of life dramatically increases in their first college year (by 23%).

Looking back over 40 years, recent college freshmen (including those at Berea) are more likely than ever to report that their academic, leadership, and writing skills are higher compared to their peers. Other trends show that, for example, the percentage of students who rate themselves above average in physical fitness has been dropping since about 1986 (it is now at less than 40%). You may view Berea’s trends over the decades compared to similar institutions at:

To view a complete set of findings showing the changes made by Berea students from high school to their first year in college, please click here:

This study summary is provided by the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment
Berea College CPO 2177, Phone: 859-985-3790.

Provost Committee Members
Joe Bagnoli, Associate Provost for Enrollment Management
Janice Blythe, Associate Provost for Advising and Academic Success
Stephanie Browner, Dean of the Faculty
Jackie Burnside, Associate Dean of the Faculty
Delphia Canterbury, Staff Support
Jamie Ealy , Director of Admissions
Carolyn Newton, Provost
David Tipton, Dean of Labor
Judith Weckman, Director of Institutional Research and Assessment
Gail Wolford, Vice President for Labor and Student Life