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First Year Success Program Background

The Challenge

Fall 2009 first-time freshmen at Cal Poly faced a more stringent implementation of the University’s academic probation policy than in previous years as a result of shrinking enrollment dollars. Anticipating a potential increase in student dismissals, the University was challenged to implement an effective support program to make every conceivable effort to retain its qualified students.

The Action

A cooperative academic coaching intervention was executed, and its effectiveness assessed, to assist students experiencing first-quarter academic difficulty in four of the six colleges on campus volunteering to take part of the effort. Advisors from the Colleges of Agriculture, Architecture, Business, Engineering and the departments of Student Support Services and Evaluations worked together in carrying out a pilot program held during the beginning of Winter Quarter 2010.

The Result

The Winter 2010 Academic Coaching pilot intervention had a significant positive effect on students’ self-efficacy, spring term enrollment, and GPA. Cal Poly has made a commitment to provide this campus-wide intervention each year, which includes all first-time freshmen on academic probation after their first quarter. Data analysis from the 2011 and 2012 programs also demonstrated a significant positive effect on students’ self-efficacy, spring enrollment, and GPA (see below).

Description of Workshop and Academic Coaching Technique

The purpose of the workshop is to reach students early in the quarter with a positive and motivating message to inspire students to reach their highest potential for the quarter. The workshop utilizes academic coaching techniques, which are linked to goal-setting and motivation. These techniques have been strongly tied to student success.

The workshop is comprised of two parts—a large-group presentation, followed by breakout groups of 6-8 students led by academic coaches. During the main presentation, a myriad of strategies for student success are discussed, including time management, office hours, and overall life balance. Students are also reminded of the many resources on campus that can support their growth in these areas.

After this presentation, students are challenged to consider the strategies they want to commit to trying for the quarter. Academic Coaches, volunteering their time from across the university, lead small breakout groups where students are given worksheets to help articulate their goals for the quarter and the specific action steps they will implement to invest in their own success. Because of the small group atmosphere, every student shares their goals with the group to help reinforce their commitment as well as establish a form of accountability. Coaches are also able to offer feedback and encouragement throughout the process.

Perhaps the most notable component of the workshop is the overall approach and tone. The workshop presenter strategically approaches students with a positive regard and full faith that they could succeed. Students are challenged to make an honest assessment of the barriers from success that they had experienced; and from there, create a strategic plan for overcoming those barriers. This positive regard and motivational attitude is also exhibited by the academic coaches in the breakout sessions.

Students are asked to sign and commit to their goals and copies are given to the coaches. During week 5, coaches send individualized follow-up emails to each member of their group and serve as a support contact throughout the quarter and beyond.

Program Data

Here are the reports that showcase the data results from the 2010 pilot program, and the 2011, 2012, and 2013 programs:

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