Getting Back on the Academic Track

Last month, Santa Monica College received a state award for a program designed to help students on academic and progress probation. SMC's Student Enhancement & Educational Research (SEER) Project won the 2004-2005 "Exemplary Program Award" given by the California Community Colleges' Board of Governors.

Last year, the project received the "Best Practice Award" from the National Council on Student Development, an affiliate of the American Association of Community Colleges.

There are two awards and four honorable mention plaques given out each year to programs that "have a direct and demonstrated effect on students in the area of access, retention completion or transfer."

The award makes special note of underrepresented groups, the ability of the program to be used by other colleges across the state, and support for students who are deficient in basic skills.

Santa Barbara City College's "Running Start" program, a transitional summer program for "at-risk" high school seniors, also received the award. A $4,000 cash award was presented to both colleges at the Board of Governor's meeting in Sacramento on Jan. 11. Since the awards' inception in 1991, this is the first time Santa Monica College is recognized for the award and the fifth time for Santa Barbara City College.

SMC's SEER Project was conceptualized in spring 2001 to examine the root causes of the growing rates of students on probation (performing below a 'C' average). The percentages of first-time college students on probation increased from 14.8 percent in spring 1998 to 28.2 percent in fall 2000.

The Project received a grant in late 2001 for $133,926 from the Chancellor's Office and matching funds of $251,979 from the SMC Matriculation Funds and Title III and was housed under the Student Success Program. The original program organizers included counselor Esau Tovar, SEER's Project Director, and Melissa Edson, SEER's Faculty Leader.

The project's implemented strategies consisted mainly of three things: student re-orientation sessions, "intrusive" advising, and promotion of English and math skills assessment through tests. The counselors in charge of the project saw that college orientation sessions, which are a requirement to newly matriculated students, did not fully address important issues.

The "probationary student re-orientation" provided the student an active interaction with counselors who identified support services available at SMC and thorough discussions on the student's performance.

"Intrusive" advising included management and monitoring of probationary students, holistic assessments of student's academic, career and financial difficulties, and intervention by counselors when deemed necessary.

The assessment tests measured student's skill level and used this information in course advisement while encouraging students to take English and math courses early on. Research leading to the creation of the project showed that half of first-time college students attending SMC did not complete an English or math assessment test before starting their first semester of college.

A study conducted by the SMC Office of Institutional Research in 1998 suggested that students with early completion of English and math courses experience a 30 percent success rate as compared to those who delayed taking the courses.

SEER's yearlong study starting in 2002 and completed in fall 2003 showed the project had a dramatic effect on student academic achievement:

* Half the students who attended re-orientation went off academic probation

* 72 percent of students attending re-orientation continued their studies the following semester, compared to 23 percent for students who had not

* Students who completed the English and math assessment tests -regardless of placement level - attained a higher course completion rate, 62 percent, compared to those who opted not to take the test, 49 percent for English and 48 percent for math.

With such dramatic results, the college has institutionalized the project and made it an inherent part of its counseling program. Nearly 4,000 students have participated in the project since its inception. The success of the program is attributed to a committed team of counseling faculty and supportive administrators. Other counselors working on this project included Juliana Parker, Rosilynn Tilley and former SMC counselor Merril Simon.