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Mizzou Freshman Orientation Program Contributes to Higher Retention, Graduation Rates

FIGs program has become a national model to help students transition to college life

June 20th, 2017

Story Contact: Liz McCune, 573-882-6212,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Twenty-two years ago, the University of Missouri began one of its longest running and most successful experiments: Freshman Interest Groups. This program gave students the option to join thematic learning groups, also called FIGs. Today, the program has become an integral part of the Mizzou experience for thousands of students and contributes to near-record retention rates.

FIGs typically consist of 15 to 20 first-year students who are focused on one major, academic interest or common learning theme. The students typically live on the same floor or an adjacent floor, and each FIG is nested within a larger learning community. In addition to living together, students take two to three general educational classes together based on their FIG theme, and the classes are transferrable to all majors. Finally, participants are required to take a one credit-hour FIG seminar class that aligns with their FIG theme and includes diversity and ethics components. No additional fees are associated with the program, which is jointly operated by Academic Affairs and Student Affairs.

“At Mizzou, our FIGs program is a national model and offers many benefits to participants,” Interim Chancellor and Provost Garnett Stokes said. “It is one of the true strengths of our university and contributes to the unparalleled excellence in education we offer.”

Over the past two decades, Mizzou’s retention rate has increased to near-record levels and is well above the national average. The retention rate of freshmen who will return as sophomores is even higher for those enrolled in FIGs—about 5 percent higher on average. In addition, surveys and data indicate FIG participants report higher levels of faculty interaction, greater involvement on campus, higher and faster graduation rates, increased appreciation of diversity, and decreased risky behavior such as binge drinking.

“Choosing to live and learn in a FIG is one of the best things students can do to set themselves up for academic success,” said Anna Valiavska, who coordinates MU’s FIGs program. “Not only does the program support students academically, our research also suggests it helps them to adjust socially. It gives students an instant social network—people with whom they have something important in common—which is very appealing to incoming freshmen.”

Frankie Minor, director of Residential Life, helped pilot the FIGs program in 1995 along with Theodore Tarkow, professor and associate dean of the College of Arts and Science. Since the program’s launch, more than 27,000 students, 1,000 peer advisors and 300 faculty and academic staff members have benefitted from the program.

“For many years, we have required freshmen to live on campus because research strongly shows that those who live on campus have greater academic success,” Minor said. “The FIGs program exemplifies how we help get Mizzou freshmen off to a great start.”

Although the program began with a focus on freshmen, today there are learning communities for transfer students and even boot camps that place students together for a short duration of time. These campus initiatives introduce students to academic content and undergraduate research opportunities.

This fall, students can enroll in one of nearly 80 learning groups that are centered around majors, themes or interests such as ROTC leadership, medical careers, and science and mathematics. About one in four undergraduate students participate in the program.

To learn more about the FIGs program, please visit