At UNC Greensboro, students are required to take a non-credit academic success course if they are placed on academic probation after their first-semester. The purpose of Strategies for Academic Success, or SAS 100, is to help students gain the success skills they need in order to return the next semester. To be eligible to return, students must earn at least a C+ average for that term. If they receive lower than a C+ average, students are suspended and must sit out at least one full semester from UNCG. Approximately 300 students each spring semester and 50 students each fall semester are required to take SAS 100. More students are required to take the course in the spring semester since the majority of first-year students start in the fall.
We refer to SAS 100 as a course with “teeth” because students are immediately suspended if they do not sign up for the course or if they miss just one class meeting of SAS 100. The current model for the SAS program was developed after much trial and error and can be summarized in four stages. Preceding the creation of SAS 100 in 1999, we required that students on probation make appointments with academic advisors and attend a series of workshops on time management and various study skills. Since these appointments and workshops did not have as positive an impact on the retention of these students as we wanted, we decided to design an academic success course.
The second stage of SAS 100’s development was during the first year the course was taught during Spring and Fall of 1999. We used an academic study skills approach in which students were taught techniques for time management, how to read a textbook, and various other study skills. Students didn’t like it, they didn’t do well in their other courses, and we had a difficult time keeping instructors. Most of all, the course wasn’t really addressing why students were placed on probation. They were reporting non-academic reasons for their probation status, yet we were feeding them only academic success strategies.
THE NEW CURRICULUM
In Fall 2000, the third stage of SAS 100 was implemented when we changed our approach to an eight-week motivation based model. At that time, we did not require a textbook for the course since many people thought it was unreasonable to require students to purchase a textbook in a course with no credit.
While preparing for the Fall 2001 semester, we discovered the On Course text. Key representatives worked hard to get On Course approved to use in SAS 100 due to its motivational and empowerment approach to student success. The addition of this core curriculum in all sections of SAS 100 was the fourth and final stage of SAS 100’s development. Teaching strategies became more specific that semester with instructors teaching life skills for academic, professional, and personal success.
We also began to require that students meet with their instructor once during the class. We now require two instructor appointments. During Fall 2001, we also decided to start the course the second week of classes to ensure that all students were enrolled in the course. Each semester we continue to evaluate the structure of the course, the curriculum, and the instructor training to assess and maintain its effectiveness.
Due to the change in curriculum and the implementation of the motivational and empowerment model, our retention rates for these students have continued to increase each semester.
The number of students eligible to return to UNC Greensboro increased 19% from Fall, 2000 (53%) to Fall 2002 (72%) and 17% from Spring 2000 (40%) to Spring 2002 (57%).
We compare spring to spring, and fall to fall because the total number of students that are required to take SAS 100 differ between the spring and fall. We believe that retention rates in the fall are higher because the classes are smaller, allowing instructors to provide students with direct one-on-one attention.
WHAT STUDENTS ARE SAYING ABOUT SAS 100
The first day of SAS 100 is an awkward time for many of the students. They may feel embarrassed, guilty, or even angry that they are required to take SAS 100. However, as you can see from the comments below, attitudes about the course change drastically by the end.
“Coming into SAS 100 I was very bitter about the way my college career had started. To my amazement, I started to enjoy the class. I started to like and look forward to the class. I learned so much this semester about my strengths and weaknesses and how to cope with obstacles.”
“I was disappointed at first to be in this class, but I must say it was very worthwhile. The book for this course is extremely helpful in understanding more about myself and seeing how to overcome problems in my life.”
“I was so angry and upset as I sat in SAS 100 the first day. I didn’t want to take the course and I felt like a failure. I also thought that being forced to take a course where there was no credit was a way of the university punishing me. But I realized that the university is not punishing me. They just want to help and make sure I get the help I need. The university was letting me discover whether or not I really want to be at UNC Greensboro. This course has helped me so much in self-discovery and getting to know myself.”
“When I first came to the SAS 100 class, I was very disappointed in myself, and I was very nervous because I wasn’t sure who I would see in my class. I didn’t want everyone to know that I had gotten myself into this predicament. But throughout the course, I have learned to accept greater responsibility and my motivation has definitely increased.”
“SAS 100 has helped me tremendously with my self confidence, especially succeeding with school. My grades are better right now than they ever have been. I’d recommend SAS 100 for all students on this campus.”
REASONS WHY STUDENTS REPORTED BEING ON ACADEMIC PROBATION
In Spring 2003, we surveyed approximately 250 students in SAS 100 using two different strategies. The first survey was a questionnaire assessing their reasons for being on academic probation. It included a comprehensive checklist of reasons that lead to academic probation and students indicated which reasons applied to them. The top 10 reasons students reported are listed below:
- Missed class
- Lack of time management
- Lack of motivation
- Lack of study skills
- Test taking problems
- Poor study environment
- Inadequate study time
- Inability to concentrate
As you can see, only a few of these top 10 reasons for academic probation are actually study skills related. Many of these reasons stem from a lack of motivation (i.e., procrastination, missed class, lack of motivation). Essentially, students are reporting reasons for their probation that can’t be “fixed” with study skills. This is one reason why I believe the motivation and empowerment based model works so well in SAS 100.
STUDENTS’ HOPE AND OPTIMISM LEVELS
We also asked students to fill out two questionnaires assessing their levels of hope and optimism. We chose to assess students’ level of hope and optimism before and after the class to see if there were significant changes due to their participation in SAS 100. As instructors, we saw that SAS 100 contributed to how optimistic and hopeful students were about their college success, but we wanted to see if this was truly the case. In addition, previous research shows that hope and optimism are essential for academic success in college (see Synder, Shorey, Cheavens, Pulvers, Adams , & Wiklund, 2002 and Curry, Snyder, Cook, Ruby and Rehm, 1997).
We used two separate questionnaires: “The Adult Trait Hope Scale” developed by C. R. Snyder (in which raw scores range from 8-64, with 64 indicating the greatest hope) and the “The Revised Life Orientation Test” developed by Michael Scheier (in which raw scores range from 0-24, with 24 being the most optimistic). These questionnaires were chosen because they have been used extensively with college students. We compared our SAS 100 students to a control group.
Students were surveyed three times: at the beginning of the semester, at the end of SAS 100 eight weeks into the semester, and at the end of the semester. At the beginning of the course, the students on academic probation had lower hope and optimism levels compared to the control group (a mean of 48.6 compared to 52.5 on the hope scale and a mean of 14.1 compared to 15.7 on the optimism scale).
Yet, their hope and optimism levels increased during the course and sustained eight weeks after the course. Specifically, at the end of the semester the mean score on the hope scale was 51.9 for probation students and 52.5 for the control group. The mean score at the end of the semester on the optimism scale was 15.6 for probation students compared to 15.7 for the control group. The changes of both of these hope and optimism levels from the beginning of the course compared to the end of the course were statistically significant (p<.01).
In other words, the students’ hope and optimisms levels increased significantly after their participation in SAS 100. Their hope and optimism levels increased so much that there was only a small difference (.06 and .01) at the end of the semester when comparing the probation students’ levels of optimism and hope to the control group. I believe that both the structure of the course and the On Course curriculum influenced the students’ hope and optimism levels. This increase may have contributed to the greater number of students being eligible to return to UNC Greensboro the next semester.
The retention results and changes in students’ hope and optimism levels display the effectiveness of the On Course curriculum and structure of SAS 100. I am convinced that teaching On Course topics such as personal responsibility, self-management, self-awareness, self-motivation, and interdependence address the underlying reasons that students are on academic probation. Breaking away from the traditional approach of teaching a straight study skills curriculum is not easy, but the data is compelling to say the least. If you haven’t yet decided to use the motivation and empowerment model in any of your courses, I’d seriously consider it today. You’ll quickly see the impact. If your institution offers a class for students on probation, I’d definitely recommend On Course. If your institution does not offer a class, I’d recommend you look into it. Without a doubt, On Course is a powerful retention tool for this population!
Curry, L. A., Snyder, C. R., Cook, D. L., Ruby, B. C., and Rehm, M. (1997). “Role of Hope in Academic and Sport Achievement.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 1257-1267.
Synder, C. R., Shorey, H. S., Cheavens, J., Pulvers, K. M., Adams, V. H., and Wiklund, C. (2002). “Hope and Academic Success in College.” Journal of Educational Psychology, 94, 820-826.
–Cindra S. Kamphoff, Retention Coordinator, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, NC