CHAFFEY COLLEGE (California)

Excerpts from a document entitled "Opening Doors to Excellence Using On Course to Assist Students on Probation" submitted by Ricardo Diaz, Coordinator, Opening Doors

In spring of 2004, after an Accreditation review, one of the pressing recommendations made by the review committee was for Chaffey to address its enforcement of probation and dismissal policies and procedures. At the time, MDRC, a social and educational policy research organization, was interested in studying Chaffey’s Success Centers. Because the Success Centers were already well established and open to all students, MDRC and Chaffey administrators quickly agreed that they were not well suited for a research project that would randomly assign some students to a control group. However, MDRC and Chaffey representatives discovered there was mutual interest in developing a new intervention targeting students on academic and progress probation: approximately 3,500 in spring 2004, or about one out of every five students enrolled. 

The Opening Doors to Excellence program was developed through a collaborative design and development process funded by MDRC bringing together instruction and student services to target students on academic and/or progress probation. Targeted students are one semester away from being dismissed from the college if they continue on probation standing for a third consecutive term…. 

Students opting to participate in Opening Doors sign a contract agreeing to repeat specific courses that will help them improve their GPA, not drop classes without consulting a counselor, take a college success course, attend required Success Center visitations and meet with the program counselor to develop an education plan with the primary objective of regaining good standing and avoiding dismissal. During the counseling appointment, a one year educational plan listing courses, semester by semester, needed to regain good standing is developed. Prior to registering for the subsequent semester, participating students are required to submit a proposed schedule for the upcoming term. Opening Doors staff then clears a registration block authorizing the student to register at his or her designated time for the upcoming semester.

In the subsequent term, participating students enroll in the guidance class and other classes recommended by the counselor. The course “Opening Doors to Student Effectiveness” is a 3 unit, grade-earning, non-degree-applicable course using the text book by Skip Downing titled On Course. The curriculum developed with this book and special training through On Course seeks to promote “innovative learner-centered strategies” for empowering students to become active, responsible learners. In addition, students are required to complete five directed learning activities in any one of four Success Centers. Students can choose from writing, reading, multidisciplinary, and math Success Centers to complete directed learning activities that correlate with specific topics covered in the guidance class. The directed learning activities are mandatory and are weighed in the final grade earned by the student in the guidance class….

A follow up study completed by Chaffey’s Institutional Research Department examined the change in self-reported perceptions of well being across a range of affective indices before and after completing the guidance courses and receiving specialized counseling through the program. Instructors administered pre and post surveys to students in the fall 2008 and spring 2009 semesters before and after completing the course. The guidance course [using On Course] had a meaningful impact across all measured indices of well-being. In particular, both fall and spring cohorts showed a statically significant and dramatic increase in self-esteem (d= 1.22 & 1.48 respectively). The spring cohort also showed statistically moderate to substantial gain in the perceived value of their education (d =.42) and their self-reported educational participation (d=.86).

Finally, since the implementation of the enhanced version of Opening Doors that subsequently became the program institutionalized at Chaffey, the college has seen a steady decrease in the number of dismissed students. In fall 2007, the term the college began to fully implement it dismissal policy 750 students out of an 18,654 students enrolled were dismissed. This represents 5% of the student population for the term. In spring 2009, 505 students were targeted for dismissed action out of 19,953 students. This represents 2.5% of the student population being dismissed. In a two year period, the college has cut the percentage of dismissed students to enrollment ratio in half.