Question #2: What are the main reasons so many first year students do poorly and end up on academic warning or probation after the fall semester?
From the perspective of the success coaches who end up with these students, there are two issues that we see most often:
1. A student misses a class, then misses another one and then before they know it, they find themselves in trouble in the course. Why do they decide not to go to class? Answers from my students: “I can just choose not to go. No one is making me go”. “Someone told me you can miss a class, it won’t matter”. “I am so tired that I just had to take a nap”. “My friends were going to ________ and I wanted to go”. Answers are many and varied. Most of these reasons fall under the category of “no one is making me go”. We have to be able to motivate students to see beyond this semester, this week, today, this hour. Many students have difficulty with motivating themselves to get up, go to class, turn in assignments and stay focused. This is decidedly NOT high school and there is no principal to call a truant officer when a student misses a class. One of our success coaches is a former high school principal who laughs when she recalls how easy it was to just hand attendance issues over to a truant officer. She could also use detention and calling parents as motivators. None of these are available to us at the college level. We had better have great motivating stories to tell as well as tricks up our sleeves to help students change directions.
2. Assignments are to be done well and turned in ON TIME! Problems arise when students get behind in just one course not to mention two or three. I have had students working in my office to make sure they are finishing a paper or an assignment or just reading the material. They often leave thanking me for making them do their work. Somehow we both overlook the fact that I can’t MAKE them do anything. At the end of each semester, students in the success coach program turn in evaluations for the coaches who guided them through the fourteen weeks. Many times we see: “It was great to have someone who held me accountable”.
Weight Watchers found this out years ago when they started group meetings for weight loss. People do better when they are held accountable by peers, parents, professors, program evaluators, etc. Being held accountable is exactly what students will encounter in the “real world” when they are working and reporting to someone above their pay grade. We hope that all future doctors, accountants, intelligence officers, plumbers, etc. had someone hold them accountable for learning the knowledge and skills they will need.
Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007. The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.