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Tara D. Thompson
, Richland College

They sit in front of us, sometimes dejected, sometimes irreverent, always wondering, "What does this mean? What's going to happen now?"  Students who have earned academic suspension status are generally uneasy about speaking with an academic advisor, even though they may not tell us. Some did not realize that they were suspended until they came to register for classes. Many have lots of 'reasons' why they are in academic trouble. ALL of them need us! How can we approach these students to best meet their educational, occupational, and sometimes personal, needs?

The Richland College suspension advisors believe that each suspension student has arrived at this point as a result of very individual issues. At the first opportunity, students are asked to put in writing their explanations for how they got to this point and their ideas for how they can help themselves get back on track. To help them brainstorm factors that contributed to their suspension, these students are given a list of specific reasons/issues and asked to mark all those that apply to their situations (i.e. poor study skills, work, outside responsibilities, etc.). Advisors then use this information to coordinate a plan of action for, and with, the student. The advisors' message to the students is clear: students must accept responsibility and be part of the process that gets them back on track.

This plan of action always includes face-to-face meetings between advisors and students during the semester. These meetings give each student and advisor a chance to build rapport and strengthen their partnership. The advisor has an opportunity to listen to the student's most important educational needs, ask questions, and provide referral to appropriate resources. Our program encourages and supports one-on-one communication that can help students feel more comfortable speaking not only with their advisor, but with their instructors, fellow students, and resource personnel. Modeling this type of interaction helps students see how they can get more out of their educations when they converse with others - ask and answer questions.

Many students with recurring academic problems need campus resources that can help expand their skills sets. Our program helps build bridges to these programs through people on campus and in the community who can assist students address a variety of needs. One student action plan may include tutoring sessions and attendance at a time management program while another may require completion of the Learning Frameworks course. This course is a combination of study skills, enhancement of basic reading/writing/math skills, time management issues, goal setting, career decision making, etc. Most importantly, students benefit from discovering their own learning styles. They understand how their learning styles may differ from faculty teaching styles, and they learn how to cope using a variety of strategies and techniques.

Tutoring sessions, the time-management program, and face-to-face advisor meetings come together with other parts of students' action plans to help students in two ways. First, as students repeat courses and attempt to earn better grades, the newly learned skills and new mindset make the job much easier. Second, as students complete new coursework, they are armed with a much larger repertoire of study techniques and strategies.

Advisors can help instill students with the desire needed to achieve the highest grades possible; they help students understand that 'average,' or 'C-level' work is just not good enough for scholarships, grants, and admission to their transfer university of choice. In many cases, students who earn As and Bs never want to go back to being average or below. Sometimes, working through an action plan helps suspension students experience success for the first time - a thrill for student and advisor alike.

In order to determine the best method to follow up with students, each suspension advisor requires the student to make individual contact with each of their instructors or requires students to self-report their progress in each class. Either way, information gathered is helpful in determining how we can further assist each student as the next registration period approaches. Individual attention helps retain many of our academically suspended students for the semester and most return for the next semester. Keeping these students involved helps us boost the retention level of our campus as a whole. With higher retention comes a greater number of successful students who ultimately graduate! Almost 50% of those in the program earn a 2.0 GPA or higher and improve their overall GPA to get back to 'good' academic standing.

All of this leads to improved accountability on the part of each student; this in turn provides support for our program and for academic advising in general. We believe that when students learn to use available resources that they are better prepared to meet not only their academic challenges but the other challenges in their lives. Next time you look at the transcript of a student who has been academically suspended, remember to hold judgment until you hear what the student has to say. In the end, you might be surprised at how much of a difference you can make!

Tara D. Thompson
Richland College
[email protected]

Cite this article using APA style as: Thompson, T. (2006, December). Getting back on track: The philosophy and implementation of Richland College's suspension-to-probation program. Academic Advising Today, 29(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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