'Shmen Take Course on Being 'Shmen

What are you doing in college, anyway? If you were a freshman at many schools nationwide, you could take a course to find out.

Increasingly, often for full academic credit, schools are offering freshman guidance courses. These classes, typically offering suggestions on studying, navigating bureaucracies, and regulating one's lifestyle, are meant to ease the transition from high school to college life.

Freshman at the University of South Carolina (USC), for instance, are now able to enroll for credit in University 101, an elective course that covers topics ranging from library survival skills to responsible sexuality.

"We try to introduce the students to the total range our university has to offer," said John Gardner, the director of the University 101 program.

Among other subjects, students in the course study "substance abuse, sexually communicated diseases, and human sexuality," Gardner said. The class requires that students attend concerts and other cultural events.

Close to half of the student population at USC elects to take the course, Gardner said, and a significant majority of those are female. "Females seem more willing to seek and accept help" than males, Gardner said.

And, judging by reduced drop-out rates for students who take the course, the program seems to be succeeding. More than 56 percent of the students who have taken the course in the last seven years have stayed in school, as opposed to 50 percent for students who have not taken the course.

Course like that offered at USC are gaining popularity across the nation, officials said this week.

"[Freshman guidance programs] are a relatively new field. We have developed our program to a large extent over the last year," said Ellen Thomas, assistant director of student activities at The University of California at Irvine.

"Literally hundreds of schools have begun to adopt similar programs" to the one at USC, Gardner said. Pennsylvania State University, Florida State University, and Louisiana State University all offer similar programs, he said.