Suffolk County Community College: College Success Program, Pathway for Underprepared Students

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Suffolk County Community College, the largest multicampus community college in the State University of New York system, serves over 24,000 students. Among the entering first-time, full-time students, 60 percent need developmental courses in at least one of the three areas—reading, writing, and mathematicsbefore they can pursue various degrees. The College Success Program was developed to help underprepared students successfully manage the demands of the first-year college experience and contribute to their overall success in college. The program is open to students who are not qualified for any grant-supported programs the college runs.

Students who have been tested into two or more developmental areas are offered the opportunity to participate in the College Success Program. Advantages of participation include an intensive summer group tutoring in math and reading/writing, an August retest for possible adjusted placement, regular one-on-one advisement with a personal counselor, and a reduced credit load in the fall semester as a result of completing the bulk of the four-credit-hour freshman seminar in August.

The program is in its sixth year and has grown steadily from 50 students to an annual new student enrollment of over 200, making the total number of students served by the program in a semester about 600. In August 2009, over two-thirds of the new students either retested into at least one upper level developmental course or retested out of one developmental area completely. The first-year students' semester-to-semester retention rate is as high as 90 percent, according to the counselors' self-reports. Since 2007, approximately 84 students from the program have been inducted to a variety of national honor societies. As one student put it, this program has "boosted my confidence and made me see that I am good at things and how far a little hard work will go. My attitude has changed about school. I'm finally starting to enjoy and like it. ... I feel older, more mature, ready to deal with problems or issues. I feel I am ready to start new."

Vincent Tinto, researcher on student success, argues that all effective retention programs have effective advising at their very core. The unique feature of the College Success Program is its structured collaboration of faculty and counselors in helping students make social and academic connections to the college environment. The program starts with one week of intensive basic-skill group tutoring, which is followed by the half-day College Success Seminar in August. Students continue to meet ten more times for workshops and class discussions in the fall semester as part of the course. The seminar contains not just college orientation, but also guidance in personal growth involving substantial academic reading and writing. The seminar builds meaningful bonds between the students and the faculty. This bond is extended to the personal counselors, who provide a wide range of advisement and other services during the whole academic year. Although the advisement sessions are not mandatory, counselors proactively reach out to students in their case loads, encouraging them to keep regular contact. Special sessions are scheduled to discuss faculty feedback in the mid-semester progress report and any other issues related to student study. Students' academic achievements are celebrated every year in the form of awards, inductions to honor societies, and scholarships. To maximize the social bonding and the reinforcement of study skills, each campus has formed its own College Success Student Club, which conducts regular workshops and activities. Each campus also has its own regular e-newsletter to spotlight student achievements, the club events, and upcoming workshops.

No program is completely successful without proper assessment. The Office of Institutional Effectiveness has set up a series of statistical studies since the first year the program was formed. Besides the retesting study and student classroom survey, counselors enter all their engagement with students into a database, which generates reports on the total hours of advising/counseling engagement, main topics of discussion, and services provided. Students participating in the program sign a consent allowing the college to access their interaction with the counselors and correlate the nature of the advisement with their academic performances.