Making the Grade

In spring of 2006, Barry Wolf, clinical psychologist and academic affairs staff member and Pam Schwartz, Learning Support Center director, began to have conversations about creating an effective program to help students on terminal academic probation (T.P.) get back on track.

Three years after the launch of Academic Success Course (IDY 100), Albion College received the 2009 Lee Noel Randi Levitz Retention Excellence Award.

Founded in 1989, the Lee Noel Randi Levitz Award is awarded to universities and colleges that demonstrate innovative and creative student retention programs in the United States and Canada.

“When we recruit students to Albion, we want them to succeed, so Albion created a course to assist those students who find themselves on terminal probation,” said Susan Conner, Provost.  “It is interesting that most of those students who are on terminal academic probation have no marked academic deficiencies; they have other issues to cope with.”

According to Wolf, terminal probation students are intelligent and have the ability to perform well in college, but often used limited effort in high school. Following semester and academic probation, level three terminal probation students have a combination of low grade point average (G.P.A) and low unit total.

The Academic Success Course differs from other retention programs because it addresses student effort and ambivalence toward change, rather than learning typical study skills like note-taking or reading, according to Wolf.

“The Academic Success Course is not a therapy session, but I take a very therapeutic stance to help students understand the psychology of how they got stuck,” Wolf said.

Initially a program in 2006, Wolf and Schwartz pushed for the program to become a course that can be taken for credit. Approved by faculty in 2007, the course is a half-credit. Prior to the creation of the course, Albion did not offer a mandatory program for T.P. students, according to Wolf.

Transitioning a mandatory program for T.P. students into a mandatory course allowed the structure of the class flexibility for change, including assigned readings and study sessions held at night in the library that students are required to attend three times weekly.

Sam Briggs, Litchfield sophomore, graduated third in her high school class but became a terminal probation student after her first semester at Albion.

“Barry doesn’t tell us to make flashcards,” Briggs said. “He helps students realize if you put in the correct amount of time, then there is no reason you can’t succeed, and if you stop feeling helpless, there are things you can do to change.”

Adopting a “nine-to-five” schedule at the library helped Briggs to manage her time. On her first midterm following her enrollment in the course, Briggs received an exam grade of 106 percent. The following semester, Briggs made the dean’s list, which requires a 3.5 G.P.A.

Briggs’ scenario is not unusual. The two year-retention rate for students who took the ASC course was 47.6 percent, compared to a 25.7 percent retention rate of T.P. students before the course existed.

A total estimated net value of $455,127 was generated from the Academic Success Course versus the revenue expected if the course did not exist, according to Wolf.

“I would never translate everything into dollars; but the college spends a great deal every year to recruit students who want to come to Albion and who want to succeed,” Conner said. “Ultimately, we all lose thousands of dollars when a match between Albion College and a student does not continue.  It’s in the best interest of everyone to find a solution to poor academic performance.”

The Lee Noel Randi Retention Excellence Award was given to Albion College at the annual National Conference on Student Recruitment, Marketing, and Retention in San Antonio, Texas, July 21-23, 2009. The University of North Carolina at Greensboro was the second recipient of the 2009 award.

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