Evaluation of a College Transition Program for Students At-Risk for Academic Failure

Article excerpt

Abstract

The purpose of this investigation was to evaluate the effectiveness of skill training introduced through a college transition program designed to prepare entering students for the rigors of college. The Learning and Study Strategies Inventory (LASSI; Weinstein, 1987) was administered to 35 Freshmen at risk for academic failure prior to and following participation in a five-week college transition skills-training program. Results indicated statistically significant differences between performance pre- and post-intervention on all scales of the LASSI. Three often scales of the LASSI demonstrated a reduction in the number of scores falling below the 50lh percentile between pre- and post-intervention efforts. Significant differences were noted for retention rates between treatment and control groups. No significant differences between treatment and control group Freshmanyear grade point averages were noted. Results suggest the importance of offering preparatory programs in order to reduce attrition and increase skills critical to academic success.

There is a growing need for support services for students with academic difficulties in post-secondary education. Students with academic difficulties are atrisk for a number of problems, including poor academic performance and failure to complete college. College support services are mandated for people with documented disabilities, but also typically available to students who struggle academically for a number of reasons. Ideally, these educational support centers would solicit participation of students at-risk for performance problems in college at the earliest point of entry. Ferguson (2000) and Ferez (1998) define the at-risk student as someone who is learning disabled and underprepared or someone who lacks skills in meeting the academic demands of post-secondary institutions.

The need for support services can be noted in the high number of students entering college at-risk for academic performance problems. Much of the literature involving at-risk students is focused on students with documented disabilities. In 1999, the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES, 1999a) noted the increasing number of students with disabilities enrolling in post-secondary institutions during the 1996-1997 academic year. An estimated 428,280 students with disabilities enrolled in either a two- or four-year college or university during that academic year (NCES, 1999a). In fact, enrollment of students with disabilities in higher education increased 300% from 1978 to 1988 nationwide (Bogart, Eidelman, & Kujawa, 1988) as a result of key legislation (American with Disabilities Act, 1990; Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 1997).

Although enrollment in post-secondary educational institutions for students with disabilities is evident, their retention rates are low with regards to completing degree requirements (Murray, Goldstein, Nourse, & Edgar, 2000; NCES, 1999b; Shaw, Brinckerhoff, Kistler, & McGuire, 1991). Ferez (1998) noted that the attrition rate of students defined as at-risk was 13% higher than their nonclassified peers. In addition to higher attrition rates, a study conducted by Heiligenstein, Guenther, Levy, Savino, and Fulwiler (1999) found that students with disabilities had a significantly lower mean GPA, a higher likelihood of academic probation, and significantly more academic problems as compared to their non-disabled peers.

Transition to College

Stressors in a number of areas make the transition from high school to post-secondary education especially difficult for individuals with learning disabilities. As noted by Dalke and Schmitt (1987), the demands of college are quite different from those of high school. College requires increased study time, increased class time, fewer tests with greater breadth of coverage, and lectures that do not necessarily cover the material presented in the textbook. Also, college courses require a much higher level of reading, writing, listening, and verbal interactive skills than high school courses (Houck, Engelhard, & Geller, 1989). …