Institutions of Excellence in the First College Year


By the Policy Center on the First Year of College

December 5, 2002



Semi-Finalists' Narrative Descriptions

United States Military Academy


In this Bicentennial Year for the United States Military Academy (USMA), it is more than appropriate to nominate West Point for recognition as one of the top “12 Institutions of Excellence in the First College Year.” The mission of the Academy’s mission is


To educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets [1] so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country; professional growth throughout a career as an officer in the United States Army; and a lifetime of selfless service to the nation.


This is no small large task to be accomplished in just four short years. [2] However, USMA’s institutional and operational structures provide several intentional, comprehensive, and effective means of accomplishing this mission. The entire West Point community focuses on aiding cadets to excel in the “three pillars of cadet life”: academic, military and physical development.  Moral-ethical development, at the core of the Cadet Corps, is integrated into each cross all three developmental programs.  Two hundred years of tradition, training, education, training, and experience make the “West Point Experience” demanding at all stages from admission through graduation.  In order to help cadets succeed within this environment, the Academy has established systematic interventions exist to support their maturation in all developmental domains and inculcate them into the Army profession.


First-year students (Plebes) are supported in the following ways:

Cadet Basic Training (CBT)

Core Academic Curriculum, Additional Instruction, & Faculty

Center for Enhanced Performance, Tutor Program, Student Success Course, SBI, & Individual Counseling

Team Leaders and Cadet Leadership Development

Fourth Class Sponsorship Program 


Approximately 1,200 new cadets successfully complete the admissions process and enter the Military Academy each July year.  Cadet Basic Training (CBT) is their first orientation to the Academy’s leadership development system. CBT provides six weeks of training in the basics of soldiering, discipline, and military standards.  In addition, new cadets are introduced to the Academic Program through a series of briefings and assessment/placement measures. 


The Academic Program consists of core courses designed to provide cadets with a broad knowledge base in the humanities and sciences.  Plebes take a series of core courses including Mathematics, Composition and Literature, Psychology, Chemistry, Computer Science, American or World History, Military Science, and Physical Education. Core course directors meet frequently to coordinate assignments and explore alternative strategies for ensuring cadets’ success in first year academics.  The core courses have standardized lesson objectives and content to ensure a common experience.  Instruction is based on an active learning model that includes daily preparation of the material in advance prior to class, so that cadets can refine and apply and refine that knowledge in class.  Class size is small, no more than 18 cadets per class. Therefore, cadets are better able to receive personal attention from their instructors.  Additional Instruction (AI) is also available for the cadets.  AI is scheduled with the instructor according to a cadet’s needs and allows the student to work on specific lessons, readings, and assignments.  Plebes can also receive assistance through the Company Tutor Program.  This program is made up of over 700 volunteer tutors from all 32 cadet companies.  Upper-class cadets, through the chain of command structure, organize the programs at the company level and monitor the academic progress of the entire company.  Tutors working primarily within their own companies, and the close physical and administrative organization of companies, ensure that companies become communities of learning.  The Center for Enhanced Performance facilitates this transformation by providing professional development for the cadet chain of command, tutor training (including CRLA certification), administrative support, and academic resources.


In addition to the Tutor Program, the Center for Enhanced Performance (CEP) intentionally focuses on empowering cadets to develop in all three pillars of cadet life.  The CEP consists of two programs: the Reading & Study Skills Program and the Performance Enhancement Program.  During CBT, new cadets are given an overview of each program and have the opportunity to request enrollment in one of the CEP courses.  In the fall term, CEP courses are only offered only to Plebes.  Plebes have the choice of enrolling in the Student Success Course, Reading Efficiency, or Information Literacy and Critical Thinking Courses.  Each of these courses focuses on the behaviors and skills necessary to becoming a successful student, scholar, and life-long learner.


The Student Success Course is the most popular course, focusing on academic and mental skills training for success. Approximately 450 Plebes take this course each fall.  Assessment data indicate that the course significantly and positively impacts cadet performance.  Taking the Student Success Course: increases cadets’ academic GPA to 9.3% beyond predicted levels (p=.002) whereas those who do not take the course under-perform by 4.2%; increases graduation rates by 1%; and improves attitudes and behaviors towards learning (p=.002) as measured by the Study Behavior Inventory (SBI).  Every Plebe takes the SBI, which yields self-reported data on short-term and long-term study behaviors as well as academic confidence scales.  Plebes receive a customized report based on their individual profile of assessed behaviors, attitudes and skills, so that they can self-assess their attitudes and behaviors and effectively make choices about how they choose to spend their discretionary time.  Many cadets choose to spend this time in individual appointments with CEP staff members to develop their academic skills, refine their stress management strategies, define their goals, and develop a mindset for peak performance in any arena.   


Individualized support is also available to Plebes through the cadet chain of command and the Sponsorship Program.  All Plebes are assigned a Team Leader, who is a sophomore from their company dedicated to providing guidance and development within the cadet system.  The Team Leaders meet their Plebes during the week before classes and are responsible for orienting them to company duties, computer systems, location of facilities, and expectations in development according to the three pillars.  Plebes are also assigned sponsors from among the staff and faculty.  Sponsors invite Plebes to their homes and serve as personal and professional mentors.  Sponsor’s’ homes are a safe environment for the Plebes to unwind away from the stresses of the cadet experience. 


The West Point first year experience is truly exceptional and deserves recognition as an “Institution of Excellence.



[1] The Corps of Cadets is made up of a brigade, which has 4 regiments, each with 8 companies.

[2] USMA requires cadets, with few exceptions, to complete the academic program within eight semesters and four years.  Graduation rates are at 75%.