Academic journal article
By Bender, David S.
Journal of College Reading and Learning , Vol. 31, No. 2
Students may be labeled by colleges as "at-risk" or "underprepared" on the basis of high school grade point average, SAT scores, the lack of particular courses, or placement tests. These measures reflect a combination of cognitive, social, and affective variables (Cross, 1976). There are numerous individual and institutional factors that can lead to success and failure among college students (Morrison, 1999; Upcraft & Gardner, 1989). At-risk students may have the ability to succeed, but they may lack the motivation to achieve or have not acquired the skills that result in greater academic success. Even students who express a desire to succeed in college may not have the necessary skills, values, or habits to meet their goals. Programs that address the needs of at-risk students should enhance the habits, attitudes, and behaviors of these students rather than only focusing on the improvement of cognitive skills (McGrath & Townsend, 1997).
The at-risk student may be more successful in college than in high school if academic behaviors that contribute to college achievement are acquired, whatever the reason for poor performance in the past. Previous studies (Grigsby & Bender, 1993; Stallworth-Clark, Scott, & Nist, 1996) have shown the effectiveness of programs in terms of academic progress as demonstrated by retention, grade point average (GPA), and scores on reading tests, but there is also some question as to the effectiveness of general study skills courses versus assistance related to specific course content. Research (Gebelt, Parilis, Kramer & Wilson, 1996) has questioned the amount of transfer between what is taught in a study skills course and the performance in academic classes. The perspective that general instruction in study skills may not transfer would argue for approaches that provide for the direct transfer of skills to course content through assistance in closely related material, in addition to attempting to change habits and behaviors. Finally, comprehensive programs have shown to be more effective than participation in isolated courses at improving student performance (Cross, 1976).
Traditional measures of the effectiveness of intervention programs include test scores, GPAs, and retention data. Some researchers (Higbee & Thomas, 1999; Wambach, 1993) have examined attitudinal and behavioral changes using students' self-assessment. However, instructors' observations of appropriate behaviors exhibited by program participants, as well as by students in a control group, provide another type of feedback in terms of demonstrating whether developmental skills courses have an influence on students in their academic classes. This study strives to determine whether faculty can observe differences in behavior aside from the performance on tests, papers, and other class requirements. Self-awareness may be measured to various reliability by self-assessment instruments completed by students, but actual behavioral changes may be more accurately gauged by the observations of instructors.
The College Skills Development Program (CSDP) began at the Penn State Berks Campus with the goals of improving the academic success and increasing the retention of students whose predicted grade point average (PGPA) was less than a "C" (2.00). The PGPA is based on a formula combining high school grades (weighted two-thirds) and SAT scores (weighted one-third). The students are routinely denied admission as degree candidates at Penn State but may attend the university as "provisional" students. As a condition of their admission to the Berks Campus location of Penn State, these students must agree to participate in the CSDP. The philosophy of the program was that a comprehensive approach to academic support for weaker students would be more effective than a standard course. The program consists of a restricted course schedule, a required study skills course, and mandatory attendance at tutoring sessions. …