by Gail Kiley, M.Ed. Class Instructor

In fall semester of 2012, the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences implemented the class titled Sophomore College Skills, designed as a retention effort for sophomores who achieved the status of academic probation. This summary discusses implementation methods, statistical results, and anecdotal reports from the instructor and students. 

Students who completed 30 credit hours and earned lower than a 2.0 cumulative GPA were identified and mandated to take the course. Their registration for the following term was blocked, and they were sent several e-mail messages urging them to contact their academic advisor and register for the course as a way to improve their GPA and stay in college. The instructor followed up electronic messages with phone calls to those who did not register for the course.

Class sections are purposefully capped at 25. The text is Skip Downing’s On Course: Strategies for Success in College and in Life, a Cengage Learning publication which is supplemented with on-line assignments. Learning outcomes include:

At the end of this course, successful students will be able to:
• Identify academic strengths and challenges through individual learning styles and emotional intelligence.
• Specify past patterns and habits that negatively impacted academic success in previous terms.
• Demonstrate the acceptance of the personal responsibility for their academic future through self-reflection and decision-making.
• Adopt several new ways of managing academic pursuits and university life, reporting successes and challenges.
• Explore graduation requirements for selected majors and identify internships/co-ops/career opportunities in those fields.
• Practice intensive time and stress management techniques that increase the effectiveness of study skills and test taking.
• Access campus resources including advising, tutoring and coaching that will contribute to their academic success.
• Work independently as well as collaborate with others. 

Learning outcomes are achieved through reading assignment in the On Course text book, regular guided journaling, and intensive in-class discussions. Students commonly report the following as reasons for their probationary status: 1. Inability to self-motivate and take responsibility for their studies, and 2. Life issues including indecision on major/career, and family issues including finances or serious illness, often leading to student depression, affecting motivation. At the end of the course, students are assigned to compile their journals into one document and identify three recurring themes that have stood in the way of a successful college career. They identify concepts from the course that have increased their self-awareness, and point to behavior changes which they have accomplished. Finally, they write a letter to an incoming student, briefly outlining their thoughts about the course and giving advice based on their experiences over the semester.

130 students (59 female, 71 male) enrolled in the course over the two years. 102 (78%) completed the course. Of those who did not complete the course, 12 have withdrawn from the university altogether. 26 students have since been suspended from the university. 64 of the 102 students who completed the course were retained and registered for the following semester.

Nearly half (42%) of the students who enrolled were listed as Exploratory majors. With referrals from the instructor and intensive advising from our Center for Exploratory Studies, 25 of those students settled on a major course of study by the end of the course. 

The course evaluation gleaned insight into the value of the course from the students’ perspectives. (SA = Strongly Agree; A = Agree; D = Disagree; SD = Strongly Disagree; NA = Not Applicable)







1. The text and required course materials were helpful to me.





2. The course helped me to study (for all of my classes) by working within my learning style.





3. Exercises and assignments helped me to accept personal responsibility for my own learning in college.




4. I will make use of time and stress management techniques in future classes.



5. I’m more likely to seek out a tutor or coach in the future.




6. This class helped me identify internships, co-ops, and career opportunities in my major field of study.





7. Completing this course has helped me to improve my academic standing with the university.





“It has been a challenge and a joy to teach these students over the last two years, and watch them realize that their behavior patterns would not serve them well in the short- (college) or long-term (career and beyond) future. Many have hung on to the notion that the university is just like high school, and that with minimal effort, everything will end up OK when grades come out. They expect accommodations that worked in the past, such as last-minute extra credit assignments. The freedom of campus life and no direct accountability to parents is often a barrier to academic success. The content of this course, with Dr. Downing’s emphasis on decision-making and accepting personal responsibility, is a natural deterrent to procrastination and other actions that lead to academic shortfall. I am particularly glad for the small class size, which makes for a ‘nowhere to hide’ mentality, and enables me to know students well enough to truly encourage change.” (Gail Kiley, M.Ed. Class Instructor)

This report closes with words from a student, used with his permission:

Hello Prof. Kiley,

In case you forgot, I was in your Sophomore Skills class during the 2013-2014 fall semester. I decided to reflect upon this school year to see what has changed about me. My goal at the beginning of the school year was to get myself out of Academic Probation by the end of the year. This goal has been achieved

After this semester, I am FINALLY in good standing with the University, my cumulative GPA is now around a 2.1. After this coming fall semester (assuming I get the semester GPA I plan on getting or better), it should be up to a 2.5 and I can apply for my major (Accounting). My overall plan is to have a 3.1 cumulative GPA by the time I graduate. This is doable, but will require a lot of hard work on my part, which I now know I am capable of doing.

One major move I took this past semester was dropping my fraternity, which I realized most likely played a major part in my failure during my first year at UC. The fraternity was also financially draining me (couldn’t buy the book for your class), and there were some people in that fraternity that I did not want to associate with, period. Ever since then, I’ve had money to do things with! And I’ve had more time to devote to my studies.

While reflecting, I realized that most (if not all) of this happened because I took your class in the fall. I remember this time last year, where I was in a state of depression because I was waiting for the letter that would tell me that I was on Academic Suspension. The letter that came offered me a chance to fix my errors through taking your class. I was willing to do anything at that point, and added your class into my schedule, which put me up to 18 credit hours. That was probably the smartest decision I have EVER made. I was unsure of what your class consisted of, or if it would actually help me get back up on my feet. But through your class, I realized that I have more potential than I thought and that I could indeed succeed at this University.

Without rambling on anymore, I just wanted to say thank you for helping me realize my potential, which in turn helped me realize what choices I need to make in order to be successful. Thank you for everything you do for this university, and thank you for helping me realize what I am capable of doing!

Best regards,