About 2,500 first-year students will begin their UCF careers on June 29. UCF hopes the new initiative will help those students — and the freshmen who begin in the fall — thrive early in their academic careers, improving their chances of succeeding in college and after they graduate.

“We are investing differential tuition dollars directly into the classroom to increase opportunities for our first-year students to succeed,” said Alison Morrison-Shetlar, vice provost and dean of Undergraduate Studies. “The foresight of UCF President John Hitt and his leadership team to provide these resources even during tight budget times will have a lasting impact on our students’ lives.”

University research showed that class size does not have a primary effect on student success, except in certain classes, including those that teach skills such as writing and math. In response, UCF is launching a pilot study of smaller composition class sections that will begin this summer.

Two first-year composition class sections during the Summer B term each will have 19 students and a requirement to work with the University Writing Center. Eight fall sections also will have only 19 students, and all other sections in the fall will have 25 students. Currently, enrollment in UCF’s composition class sections is capped at 27.

UCF also will expand a new approach to college algebra courses that began in fall 2008 with support from the National Center for Academic Transformation. Instead of attending class for three hours a week, students in the sections taught under the new format go to class for one hour and are required to spend at least three hours a week in a computer lab where they solve math problems. Data from UCF’s two-semester pilot study have shown that this teaching strategy significantly increases student success, including grades and test scores, in college algebra.

While in the lab, students work with customized software that gives them helpful hints and immediate feedback about whether they are doing their work correctly — preventing them from repeating mistakes on several problems in their homework. Students also receive one-on-one help from trained undergraduate and graduate student mentors and instructors.

During the once-a-week algebra classes, students will be divided into smaller groups, creating a stronger sense of community among them. They will work together on problems throughout the semester and will be encouraged to study for tests together.