Chaffey College’s commitment to student success is woven into the fabric of its instructional programs, student support services and activities. Instruction and student services have worked hand in hand to create a myriad of success initiatives to help students overcome challenges to accomplishing their academic goals. A common motto among the Chaffey community is, “Today’s probationary student is tomorrow’s transfer student.”

One such initiative is the Opening Doors to Excellence program. This program serves students experiencing academic difficulty observed in substandard grades and/or excessive dropping of classes over two consecutive semesters. Student success is achieved when they regain good standing with the college by earning a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 2.0 (“C”) out of 4.0 or better and/or by completing 51% or more of their attempted units within a one year period of participating in the intervention.

Targeted Population and Success Measurements

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.

Opening Doors measures the success of its participants using several indices. Most immediately, students are given a pre and post assessment survey to measure improvement on self-reported measures of self-esteem, goal orientation, perceived value of obtaining an education, and educational behavior/participation at the beginning of the guidance class and upon completion of the course. Significant improvements in the self-reported measures are statistically analyzed. Another success measurement gathered is that of students regaining good standing after enrolling in the program. Students electing to participate in the Opening Doors program that complete the counseling/educational plan and the guidance course/success center interventions are evaluated to determine if their cumulative GPA reaches a 2.0 or better or their combined units earned have achieved a ratio of 51% or more units earned to 49% or fewer units in W, I, NC, NP after two semesters including the semester of the intervention.

Opening Doors Program Services to Assist Targeted Students

In 2000, Chaffey College launched its Basic Skills Transformation Project. Chaffey used State of California Partnership for Excellence funds to establish so-called Success Centers offering individualized and small group instruction to students in math, reading, and writing, along with curriculum resources and instructional support to faculty in those fields. The centers provide one-on-one instruction, tutoring, workshops and study groups for specific classes or topics. Data collected and analyzed by Chaffey’s Institutional Research department concluded that students who accessed these centers showed a marked improvement over those that did not. It also showed that those students least likely to utilize the Success Centers were students on probation.

Together with MDRC, Chaffey administrators, counselors, instructors, Success Center instructional specialists, and staff from various support programs collaborated to design, develop, pilot and implement a comprehensive program to address the needs of probation students. At the core it was designed to get probationary students to use the Success Centers. MDRC conducted a random assignment study on the participants of the fall 2005 program. The first year results showed no significant difference between the cohort of students receiving the intervention and those in the control group who did not.

In this first year, the original program was offered on a voluntary basis, because Chaffey administrators were concerned that a mandatory program would adversely affect enrollment. In addition, the Success Center visitations lacked focus and relevance to work being completed in the guidance classes. Consequently, many students did not complete the guidance classes and minimally attended the Success Centers. The Core Planning Committee worked with administrators to make the program mandatory and restructured how Success Center visitations would be completed to better coordinate with topics related to the guidance classes. This enhanced version was implemented and studied in fall 2006. The results showed that the intervention significantly improved student performance on several key indices which will be presented in the evidence section below.

The Opening Doors program integrates counseling, instruction, and success centers to intervene with students on second level academic and/or progress probation. Students are contacted by mail and notified of their probation standing. They are blocked from registering for the subsequent term until they respond to the letter. Upon responding, they are requested to attend an informational session with Opening Doors staff who review the probation and dismissal policies and procedures, and go over student transcripts to help students fully comprehend the extent of their probation standing. Students are given the opportunity to enroll in Opening Doors and participate in the program intervention to help them get off probation, show that they can get off probation within the currently enrolled semester and be allowed to waive the program, or refuse services all together.

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: Strategies for Success in College and in Life (Cengage Learning). 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.

Faculty teaching the guidance classes employ a computerized early alert program to identify and notify students when they are experiencing academic difficulty in their classes. Students are identified and notified by email at the end of the first, fourth, and sixth weeks of the term. Counselor apprentices make phone calls following up with students to encourage them to speak with their instructor, utilize support services, and address recommendations for improvement made by their instructors.

Students participating in the guidance class intervention are offered one year of immunity from dismissal action by the college. Students are afforded the time to improve their grades and overcome their probation standing within that immunity year. Students that opt for refusal and program waiver are subject to dismissal in the subsequent term if they do not get off probation with grades earned in the current term.

Evidence of Success

MDRC, in its study “Getting Back on Track: Effects of a Community College Program for Probationary Students”* published in April 2009, found that 36 percent of the program group of students participating in the Enhanced Opening Doors Program (the program most like the one described here) earned a cumulative grade point average of 2.0 or higher (“C”) compared to 23.6 percent of their control group counterpart. In addition, 30.4 percent of program group regained good standing after two semesters compared to 15.9 percent of the control group. In both instances, researchers found these differences to be statistically significant.

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 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 its 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 dismissal 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.

MDRC and Chaffey’s Institutional Research Department are conducting further analysis of the program intervention with students who participated in the 2005 and 2006 MDRC studies, looking specifically at the long-term impact on academic performance, degrees and certificates earned, and transfer rates.

–Ricardo Diaz, Coordinator, Opening Doors to Excellence, Chaffey College, CA

*For a copy of the MDRC study “Getting Back on Track: Effects of a Community College Program for Probationary Student” (Executive Summary or full text) go to http://www.mdrc.org/publication/getting-back-track.

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