Baylor ranked as 8th best first-year experience in the nation

WELCOME TO CAMPUS The Medrano family gets in one last picture before saying goodbye during the family picnic, after move-in. This, among other programs put on by New Student Programs, gives students a chance to adjust to college life before starting classes. Nathan De La Cerda | Multimedia Journalist

By Bridget Sjoberg | News Editor

When US News and World Report released their official 2020 Best Colleges rankings, Baylor was included in several different categories—one of the highest being included as No. 8 in the nation for “First-Year Experience.”

The rankings are made by a variety of “college presidents, chief academic officers, deans of students and deans of admissions from more than 1,500 schools” who nominate universities to be included within specific categories. Baylor was included in the ranking due to having received 10 or more nominations.

Michelle Cohenour, director of student success initiatives, has been at Baylor for five years and helps work with colleagues to coordinate first-year initiatives. She was excited to hear about Baylor’s high ranking in the First-Year Experience category, and sees Baylor as a school that prioritizes personal experiences for incoming freshmen to connect to the university in a meaningful way.

“I was very excited to see Baylor rank in the top 10 for first-year experience. There are countless faculty, staff and student leaders who work diligently to invest in our student’s experiences as they begin their Baylor journey,” Cohenour said. “I feel this beautifully represents Baylor’s caring culture where every student matters and is valued.”

She values programs like Line Camp and Welcome Week and the work that Dr. Nathan Shelburne and the New Student Programs team put into making the events special. Although Baylor’s ranking was high on the list for being a school of over 14,000 undergraduate students, Cohenour believes that despite its larger size, Baylor makes an effort to include personal touches that make students feel cared for.

“A recent example of this is our New2BU survey which launched today [September 16]. We have a 32-question survey that we ask all of our new students to take and our response rate is normally 90+%,” Cohenour said. “This helps us to understand the student experience and get students connected quickly to resources and opportunities on campus. We read each open-ended response that students write and follow up if needed. We do this to honor our student’s voice and let them know we hear them and are here to walk alongside them as they begin their Baylor journey.”

Jordy Dickey, assistant director of the Student Union, also sees Baylor as a place that allows for students to feel seen and appreciated through the effort put into programming and student-catered events.

“It’s really special as you look at the size of Baylor and how it continues to grow,” Dickey said. “The core of our mission is that caring community. . . For the student experience, we want it to be vibrant and we want people to feel seen, known and cared about.”

Dickey also sees programming like Sundown Sessions, which occurs every Friday and Saturday night in the Bill Daniel Student Center (SUB) as a way to give students engaging activities to participate in on campus, especially for first-year students.

“I absolutely think that Sundown Sessions creates a sense of home, which is really important,” Dickey said. “Especially on late nights or weekends when sometimes you might be thinking about what to do in Waco, the SUB can be that place for you. . . When I think about Baylor’s programs, there’s just something that feels personalized. I think that’s what people notice—it’s an experience that draws the students in.”

Tom Barnard, assistant director for student outreach and engagement, works to increase student engagement outside of the classroom by helping to get them involved in activities, groups and traditions on campus. He also runs the popular Instagram account @tomatbaylor, which documents every-day Baylor events and campus life. He was happy to see that Baylor was ranked in a high position on the new ranking.

“Baylor deserves every bit of this ranking and then some,” Barnard said. “My understanding of the US News rankings is that they are based quite a bit on peer institution leadership reviews of our programs. The fact that Baylor is not only excellent at these programs, but recognized as a leader in the area isn’t surprising to me, but it’s encouraging. Hundreds of faculty and staff invest their time, hearts and energy into making the first-year experience at Baylor the very best.”

He appreciates Baylor for its emphasis on “creating a caring community,” and on personalizing campus activities by developing unique programs and paying attention to detail.

“I would argue that it is that intentionality that makes a big difference here and differentiates us from other universities. Our orientation, Baylor Line Camp and Welcome Week programs are also incredibly well-planned and executed,” Barnard said.

Other important rankings that included Baylor are as the No. 2 school in the Big 12, as well as in categories like National Universities (No. 79), Best Colleges for Veterans (No.48) and Best Undergraduate Teaching (No. 20).