INTRODUCTION: Students enrolled in our college’s remedial courses, especially in Mathematics, English, Reading and ESL, have very low success and retention rates. They also demonstrate a lack of critical life skills such as emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and accepting personal responsibility which play an important role in their ability to reach their desired goals. To address this problem, I set a goal to establish a campus-wide, one-semester freshman seminar at Mission College using On Course as its primary textbook.  Noting that there is often a deep divide between instructional faculty and counseling faculty, I also hoped to bridge this gulf by pairing the freshman seminar sections with remedial classes to create Learning Communities. This structure, I hoped, would allow instructional faculty to acquire a range of counseling skills and counseling faculty to acquire a greater knowledge of remedial classroom dynamics and pedagogical approaches.  In the successful creation of our Learning Communities, I learned many important lessons that are encapsulated in this report.

PURPOSE: To create an On Course Learning Communities program that pairs remedial courses with a student development course. 

STEPS: Here are the nine steps that I found essential in starting our Learning Community Program at Mission College . I will explain each step in more detail below.

  1. Create a clear vision that you are prepared to share with your campus colleagues
  2. Align with key campus players who can make this vision a reality
  3. Write a project proposal
  4. Design a Curriculum
  5. Develop a Budget
  6. Create a Steering/Advisory Committee
  7. Attend to scheduling concerns
  8. Develop a research model
  9. Develop a feedback survey



I returned to my college campus from an On Course I Workshop determined to bring On Course strategies to our students.  On my way home, I recognized that to have the greatest impact, we needed to develop a freshman seminar model for our two-year college.  In this way, we would have the best opportunity to affect the largest number of students, and to affect the teaching and lives of the largest number of faculty members on campus.  My first step was to carry a bold vision and make a commitment to see it through.  In my experience, a lack of commitment and lack of follow-through has hindered many a fine project.


A) Identify Allies: I first contacted faculty members on my campus who had attended an On Course Workshop. Then I identified a number of counselors, instructors and administrators who shared my concerns for increasing student success, who were not afraid of change, and who had previously made something happen on campus: people who get things done.  I chose some of them because they work in basic skills areas, others because they had been utilizing similar learning-centered approaches already, some because they had lamented the difficulties of working with students who appeared to lack motivation, and others who had obtained previous grants or coordinated complex campus projects. For people not familiar with On Course, consider showing them a short (3 minute) Video Introduction to On Course.

B) Share Stories:  As I visited these key allies, I began to share stories about the powerful strategies I had experienced at the On Course Workshop.  I strongly believe that the best method of advocating for On Course is to facilitate someone else’s attendance at the workshop.  I provided others with a list of upcoming On Course Workshops, and a link to the website.  I also made arrangements to host an On Course Workshop on our campus to train the participants in the strategies that we would be implementing in our learning communities. If hosting a workshop for your faculty isn’t possible, consider developing a short presentation yourself of some of the On Course strategies.  Keep your presentation hands-on, interactive, and pick the strategies that make the most sense to you in working with your students.  Remember that less is more: rather than planning many activities, plan fewer, and allow more time for the activity to unfold.  Allowing others to experience the On Course activities, and empowering them to begin to use the strategies in their classrooms, is a very effective way to create allies to support a learning community project. 

3. WRITE A PROJECT PROPOSAL:  Develop a written model for implementation. The development of a written proposal allows you to carry an idea from place to place, to request feedback and make changes as needed, and to leave your idea behind when you go.  It’s always better to have something in hand to market your dream.  I began with my vision and included research justification for its need on campus, the effectiveness of On Course (including a brief explanation), and the draft of the project details.  As I visited different colleagues on campus, I indicated that it was a draft and asked for their input.  As we moved forward, the project held the ideas of numerous people on the campus and evolved to meet the campus needs closely.  (My proposal is appended below)

I wished to reach the maximum number of students, so I saw a Freshman Seminar project as my best bet.  I decided to focus on remedial level students, since this cohort typically demonstrates lower success and retention rates, since we could reach them earlier in their college career, and since the faculty working at this level had expressed the clearest need and desire to try something different. Because Counseling faculty on our campus were already actively involved in student success projects, including teaching life skills courses, I decided to work closely with the Counseling Department.  I met numerous times with the Department Chair, who understood the ins and outs of scheduling, budgeting, and the other components of the planning needed to successfully implement a Freshman Seminar.  I presented an On Course interactive session to the entire department, and supported this interactive presentation with the research demonstrating its effectiveness.  This research from many colleges and universities using On Course can be found at the Institutional Studies section of the On Course web site.

4.  DESIGN A CURRICULUM:  Because the curriculum development and approval process is typically lengthy, it is essential to write new curriculum promptly to meet the needs of the project.  I worked with a counselor to develop the Counseling 901 (On Course) course outline; this counselor served on the curriculum committee and was able to foresee any issues in advance.  In order to offer the courses in the fall, we needed to move the course through the curriculum committee 10 months in advance to allow time for course outline revisions, to identify faculty to teach courses, and to get the courses in the fall schedule by the February deadline.  Consider some of the following issues: Discipline areas should be carefully thought out. Will this course be taught only by counselors, team taught with other faculty, or taught across the curriculum, perhaps housed in interdisciplinary studies?  If it is housed in English or mathematics, it typically cannot be taught by faculty outside of these areas.  Another alternative is to write several versions tailored to each discipline, allowing for the majority of faculty to participate in the future.  (Our course outline is appended below.)

5.  DEVELOP A BUDGET.  The budget is typically due eight to ten months before the fall semester.  Your budget proposal should include the following:

a) Course supplies

b) Faculty release/assigned time for Project Coordinator (25-50%)

c) Additional Load if team-teaching model is used

At my college, a committee assigns FTE (Full Time Equivalent) to departments for course offerings, release time for projects, etc.  I visited the committee to request the total additional FTE that was needed to have the content instructor team-teach the Counseling 901 course, and for the Counselor to spend one hour in the content classroom.  Check to see if your college has an existing model for allocating load to team-teaching projects.  Note that the cost of a freshman seminar can be relatively inexpensive if it is tied to courses that are already offered; likewise, the supply budget for On Course is minimal.  In order to ensure that there is a point person for coordination, release time should be designated for this purpose.

6. CREATE A STEERING/ADVISORY COMMITTEE.  In order to successfully institutionalize the project, you should create a committee, drawn from across disciplines, of faculty, administrators and students, to advise the project.  The committee is helpful in ensuring that the college community as a whole feels that the project is widely supported, in publicizing the importance of the project, and in providing useful feedback regarding the implementation of the project.

7. ATTEND TO SCHEDULING CONCERNS IMMEDIATELY.  The schedule is typically created six to eight months in advance.  There are a number of issues to address when putting together a schedule:

A) Use existing classes scheduled at popular times.  With a co-requisite attached to an English, Math, Reading or ESL class, there may be a disincentive for students to sign up for the class that has additional units/credits attached.  This disincentive can be overcome when counselors, faculty and student services programs encourage students to take the On Course classes, but, in any case, schedule the On Course classes linked to content classes that historically demonstrate good enrollment. Consider requesting the same classroom for the content and counseling portions of the class, in order to prevent the loss of students between classrooms, and in order to transform the classroom environment with posted class rules, dreams, commitments, and quotations.

B) Check and double-check the draft of the schedule of classes.  Make sure that there is clear notice in the schedule of the linked courses, and that the registration system (telephone, in-person and web-reg) can accommodate linked courses.  A trial run would be useful in ironing out wrinkles.  If it is not absolutely clear in the schedule, students will not know they must enroll in the Counseling course, and they may enroll in another class at the same time.

8. DEVELOP A RESEARCH MODEL. This model should track the cohort of students involved in On Course and compare them with a similar cohort not involved.  The students in On Course counseling classes at Mission are compared with students enrolled in the same level courses who are not enrolled in an On Course counseling class.  We compare their retention and success rates.  We also track the long-term persistence rates of the On Course students, compared to remedial level students as a whole. 

9. DEVELOP A FEEDBACK SURVEY. This survey should request feedback from faculty teaching in the learning community and from students who participate. The feedback allows you to respond to their concerns and to document their involvement.  Consider developing a handbook from this wisdom to share with new faculty, and a training session specific to your college’s model that will complement the On Course Workshop.  Be sure to get students to write an evaluation of the course and use it to assess the effectiveness of the current strategy. You should also ask them, “What is the most important thing you learned this semester?” If possible, have them speak a statement to the class at semester’s end and video record it for showing to other students or to doubting colleagues. Click HERE for an example of such a video created by Casper College. You need to accumulate anecdotal data to supplement numerical data if you wish the project to become institutionalized.


The outcome of this project has been the successful fall, 2001, implementation of eleven remedial English, Reading, Math classes linked with On Course counseling classes. There are two English and three math classes currently scheduled for the Spring semester with four Counseling 901 classes.  The classes have demonstrated higher retention and success, and these rates follow in the next section. Faculty members have commented that they are energized and excited by the opportunity to work with the On Course strategies.  They also use their On Course strategies in a range of other classes and workshops, including athletics, EOPS workshops, transfer, motivation and other workshops, Orientation, counseling classes, and many others.  I have also used them with my own colleagues in professional development presentations, especially for new faculty.  The students in On Course classes are actively involved in finding solutions to their problems, and in applying their new strategies to their Mathematics, English and Reading classes.

In fall, 2001, we began with thirteen learning community classes, covering English, Math, ESL and Counseling.  Each counseling class was paired with one basic skills course, except that one counseling class was paired with both an ESL and an English class.  One learning community pairing did not make enrollment, likely due to an unusual time slotting, and another used Counseling 1 in place of Counseling 901.  The rest of the course pairings used Counseling 901, Student Success Strategies, with On Course as the primary textbook.  The following results are based on the On Course learning communities:

  • Mission College Average Basic Skills Retention Rate:  65%
  • Overall On Course Basic Skills Retention Rate: 87%
  • Mission College Average Basic Skills Success Rate:  45%
  • Overall On Course Basic Skills Success Rates: 62%


  • English 905/Counseling 901:  Retention Rate:  77%  Success Rate: 58%
  • Math 900 Arithmetic/Counseling 901:  Retention Rate: 100%  Success Rate: 60%
  • Math 902 Pre-Algebra/Counseling 901:  Retention rate:  75%  Success Rate: 50%
  • English 905/Counseling 901* Retention Rate: 94%  Success rate: 71%
  • ESL 135 Reading & Vocab/Counseling 901* Retention Rate:  94% Success Rate: 82%

*These three classes were linked in one learning community.

The overall results indicate an increase in retention rates of 22%, and an increase in success (passing) rates of 17%.  This increase demonstrates the success of the pilot On Course learning communities, and suggests that further studies are merited.


Faculty noted a number of issues, including:

  • Content instructors (English/Reading Math/ESL) learned more about counseling strategies
  • Counselors learned more about specific subject areas and pedagogy
  • Instructors need to negotiate the classroom space and responsibilities carefully when team-teaching
  • Lots of time is needed to meet and coordinate team-teaching
  • They really enjoyed working very closely with another instructor
  • They learned much more about their own teaching from team-teaching, and from learning communities in which they also saw the connections between disciplines


I have learned more in the area of interdependence than any other area.  I typically take on big projects and try to do much of the work myself, rather than delegating and collaborating.  One of my colleagues nicely reminded me that she could help (since she had also taken the On Course Workshop, she casually mentioned interdependence skills), and her assistance in organizing and following through on tasks has been invaluable.  Since one of my commitments has been to publicly praise people around me, let me take the time to say: Thank You, Yolanda Coleman; You are a Powerful Creator who gets things done!

In terms of implementing a new campus-wide program, I have learned that it is essential to request input from others to make the project one that belongs to the entire campus.  Since I tend to move very quickly, I have learned that is important to allow others to proceed at their own pace.  I have also learned how important it is to allow others to take ownership of a campus project, otherwise it becomes known as your project.  I also learned the value of working with faculty and students from multiple discipline areas, so that when committees met to make budgeting and FTE allocation decisions, we were widely represented.

I have also learned how important active listening skills are in moving forward.  These skills have made it easier for me to hear and reflect the issues that others raise as a project moves forward.  For example, listening to and reflecting the concerns of counseling  faculty brought all of us clarity and convinced me to scale back the size of the project to allow counselors to assess the impact on their department of the significant commitment they were making in staffing On Course classes.

Another important life lesson for me has been in following my own dreams.  My work for On Course is a labor of love and is precisely the kind of change I wish to bring to my students and myself.  This has reminded me to prioritize my own dreams and goals, and to follow them relentlessly.  I am most happy when I do so.


1. Project Proposal

The new On-Course Basic Skills Learning Communities Project will begin in Fall, 2001, at Mission College.  There are currently 22 instructional and counseling faculty members involved in this project.  There will be twelve basic-skills (beginning level) classes each linked with a section of Counseling 901, a 2-unit counseling class which uses the student success strategy textbook On Course: Strategies for Success in College and in Life as its primary instructional tool.  While most of the Learning Communities will combine two courses (a remedial course and a counseling course), two Learning Communities will combine three courses.  One of these learning communities will combine one English class, one ESL class, and one Counseling 901 class.  Another will combine one Reading Class, one English class, and one Counseling class.

The project intends to serve as a required “freshman seminar” for Basic Skills students at Mission College, providing them with an opportunity to learn a set of skills early in their academic career which will facilitate their personal and academic success.  The On Course textbook is used at more than one hundred colleges [now more than 500] in the United States, and the programs are of many different types: English classes, counseling classes, student success classes, programs for prison inmates, etc. In California, it is being used at Cerritos College, El Camino College, and West Hills College for Puente learning communities, and has recently been presented to thirteen California community colleges at a September, 2000, Santa Barbara workshop.

The On Course approach transforms students from the inside out.  Many other approaches attempt to transform from the outside in.  Put another way, for at-risk students, success follows the inner transformation of the very self-sabotaging behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes that put them at risk.  Once the inner transformation has occurred, learning study skills such as the Cornell Method of note taking, and solving algebra problems or writing a composition can follow more easily.  Synthesizing the best wisdom from innovators in psychology, education, business, sports, and personal effectiveness, the On Course Success Principles represent eight of the essential “things” that good learners believe and do. Founded on these principles, the On Course textbook gives students a framework to learn and implement practical success tools. By guiding students to adopt these principles and tools, we’ll empower them to become effective partners in their own education, giving them the outer behaviors and inner qualities to create greater success in college and in life.

There is a substantial body of research on the effectiveness of learning community implementation at colleges, and the link to Counseling 901 will allow each cohort of students to carry a set of learned skills (focusing on personal responsibility, self-motivation, self-awareness, and commitment) from the counseling classroom into the content classroom, increasing student success, retention and persistence rates.  The exercises and assignments in the On Course textbook draw from educational theory, motivational psychology, research on emotional intelligence and the most effective of the corporate seminar strategies.

This project model uses team teaching skills in cross-disciplinary collaborations.  Both the counseling faculty and the content faculty member will be team-teaching the Counseling 901 class.  This collaboration will allow the content faculty member to acquire a set of counseling and facilitation skills to utilize in the learning communities’ target classroom as well as in their other classes.  Although the standard cross-disciplinary collaboration matches academic disciplines, this model matches an academic discipline with the discipline area of counseling, an unusual but powerful match, and a match between two disciplines which is neatly tailored to the needs of remedial level students.  The counselor will also teach one hour in the content classroom, team teaching through prepared lessons, personal revelation, one-on-one reflection and dialogue, and the facilitation of group work.  This model will allow the students to recognize the connection between the counseling course content and the discipline course content.  This collaboration will challenge both the instructor and the counselor to develop new and more effective strategies in their classroom and college work, and to gain a deeper awareness of their role in facilitating and promoting student success at Mission College .

The project hopes to reach another goal as well, that of bridging the gap between classroom instruction and counseling.  These two partners in the college structure, the instructional and student services sides of the house, are too often separated, resulting in a knowledge and experience gap between instructional faculty and counseling faculty.  Although on an individual basis, some faculty members have worked across this divide, this project provides a unique opportunity to numerous instructional faculty to learn much more about counseling, facilitating motivating and experiential group work and implementing strategic interventions for remedial students.  This project also provides an opportunity for numerous counseling faculty to spend time in the content classroom, and to gain valuable knowledge surrounding Basic Skills classroom dynamics, content faculty teaching challenges and pedagogical theory and implementation, skills that can be used both in their counseling responsibilities as well as in their teaching assignments in Counseling 1 and Counseling 12.  As the project continues, we hope to leverage the other strengths of the On Course Learning Communities Project, including the facilitation of in-house professional development, drawing from trained and experienced on-campus faculty to train and mentor incoming faculty, strengthening professional collaboration across disciplines and traditionally divided campus services and functional areas, and building capacity (training educators and students to become actively involved as mentors, sharing gained wisdom).

The essential On Course principles in success are as follows: accepting personal responsibility, discovering self-motivation, pursuing personally meaningful goals, taking purposeful actions in pursuit of chosen goals and dreams, demonstrating interdependence (building mutually supportive relationships that help them achieve their desired outcomes and experiences); gaining self-awareness (consciously developing empowering attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs that keep them on course); becoming life-long learners, gaining knowledge and wisdom by finding valuable lessons in nearly every experience they have; developing emotional intelligence, effectively managing powerful feelings and staying on course despite life’s inevitable upsets; believing in themselves, feeling competent and unconditionally worthy as human beings. Having acquired these non-cognitive skills, our students and faculty will become highly valued campus assets, promoters of respectful actions and commitment, and exemplars of assuming personal responsibility.

2. Course Outline: To receive a copy of the On Course Syllabus Collection, send an email request to

Jonathan Brennan, Faculty, English, & Learning Community Coordinator, Mission College, CA

Forum Image OptionStarting Learning Communities