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Paul Fowler, Louisiana State University Eunice

Editor’s Note: The Pathways to Success program was honored with a NACADA Outstanding Advising Program Award in 2008.

Paul Fowler.gifBetween 19% and 33% of students entering two-year institutions require developmental education coursework in every subject in order to prepare for their first general education courses (ACT, 2007; McCabe, 2003). Given that these students may not have the opportunity to attend college without such programs, the question becomes how best can we address their needs and increase learning. Louisiana State University Eunice’s Pathways to Success program utilizes a structured approach that has proven effective by addressing a trio of student factors, any one of which may actually become a barrier to success (Boylan, 2009; Lotkowski, Robbins, & Noeth, 2004). The academic factors relate to coursework and tutoring; nonacademic factors deal with a student’s motivation, goals, socialization, and transition to higher education. Personal factors include any issue in students’ lives that may require time away from academic work (e.g., transportation, financial responsibilities, children, work, or medical issues) (Boylan; Lotkowski, et. al.). The Pathways program focuses on orientation and transition, class attendance, tutoring, and academic advising – all of which are mandatory for these students. While all program components are important, the relationship developed with the academic advisors is crucial to helping students through the various issues they face during their first year.

For example, the advisor-student relationship begins at orientation, where prescriptive academic advising takes place one-on-one as students are enrolled in classes based upon their assessment results and personal schedules. Students who work, have family obligations, or have medical issues are advised to attend part-time their first semester to determine how their college and personal schedules will interact with one another. Very simply, advisors set students up for success by listening to “what else is going on in the student’s life” while keeping in mind that their class and personal schedules do not operate in isolation of one another.

Prescriptive advising becomes developmental advising during the three out-of-class advising visits required for students in the study skills and transition course. The preprogrammed visits play a major role in detecting and assisting students through nonacademic or personal issues that may threaten their academic success. The first advising visit coincides with the goal setting, learning styles, and temperament units discussed in class. The process is repeated again during the second advising visit as course instructors and advisors cover registration and midterm semester issues with students. Lastly, the first semester transition course concludes with an in-class career inventory where results are discussed personally with each student. It is in this advising session where frank conversations take place about students’ choices of majors. This may be as simple as pre-nursing students saying they cannot stand the sight of blood or as subtle as the same students having difficulty in the first semester biology course. Three advising visits also are required in the second semester college reading class, but those visits are more general and do not correspond to prescribed in-class objectives.

Academic advising may become “intrusive” for some students as the director and advising staff visit students in class, phone students, or visit them in the residence hall during the early warning period. Faculty let advisors know if students are not doing homework, not attending or arriving late to class, or causing any disruption. Advisors email faculty after discussing the issue with the student.

Various lessons have been learned since the Pathways to Success implementation six years ago. First is that most students follow directions if they know what to do and when tasks are to be completed. For example, approximately 90% of the Pathways students comply with the academic advising policy every semester. In addition, approximately 70% of program students comply with the attendance policy missing less than a week of classes.

Next, the program is labor intensive. For instance, the total number of students in the Pathways program at all sites was 445 in fall 2010; students logged 1,400 advising visits that required one administrator, three full-time advisors, and eight faculty advisors. Students enrolled in the program know that someone is “watching their back” and that the advisors are there to help as needed. This level of advising may not be practical at larger institutions without additional support. However, advisors could pilot a program for a small number of students and enlist peer advisors to help. Then they could examine the results to determine whether expanding such a program would prove useful.

The third lesson learned is that communication, cooperation, and consensus-building are crucial. Program faculty and staff must have a positive attitude and seek to help students. Professional development opportunities and frequent open discussion regarding what is working, and what is not, are musts.  Communication with the institution’s executive team is also necessary since institutional resources are required if the program is to be effective. Communication must occur with those who may disagree with program policies; this provides opportunities to present evidence that the program positively affects students.

Finally, program administrators must realize that some environmental issues are beyond their control, (i.e., budget cuts that drive up class sizes can affect program results). Larger class sizes can affect statistics from success rates in individual classes to program completion. It is also worth noting that a small percent of students will not accept any assistance; program data indicates that less than 10% of students eligible for the program fall into this category.

The Pathways program has demonstrated that learning, course completion, and retention for students needing developmental coursework in all subjects can be improved through the use of a structured program combining best practices from the orientation, transition, academic advising, and developmental education literature – at least on a small scale. Given the economy, the challenge is discovering which program elements can be applied to larger institutions in order to increase learning, success, and retention. 

Paul Fowler
Office of Developmental Education
Louisiana State University Eunice
[email protected]


ACT. (2007). Rigor at risk:  Reaffirming quality in the high school core curriculum. Iowa City, IA: ACT

Boylan, H.R. (2009).  Targeted intervention for developmental education students (T.I.D.E.S.). Journal of Developmental Education 32(3) 14-18, 20, 22-23.

Lotkowski, V.A., Robbins, S. B., & Noeth, R. J. (2004). The role of academic and non-academic factors in improving college retention:  ACT Policy Report. Retrieved from http://www.act.org/content/act/en/research/pdfs/the-role-of-academicandnon-academicfactorsinimprovingcollegerete.html

McCabe, R. H. (2003). Yes we can! A community college guide for developing America’s underprepared.  Phoenix, AZ:  League for Innovation in the Community College and American Association of Community Colleges. 

Cite this article using APA style as: Fowler, P. (2011, June). Academic advising and the underprepared student: Finding a degree of success. Academic Advising Today, 34(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]

Posted in: 2011 June 34:2


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