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Lynnae Selberg, Vicki Maxa, and Erin Busscher, Grand Rapids Community College

Editor’s Note: The GRCC approach to advising for probationary students was recognized as an Exemplary Practice in the 2014 NACADA Pocket Guide, Advising Students on Academic Probation.

GRCC team.jpgFor many students at Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC), landing on academic probation was akin to a death sentence in terms of academic success.  Despite a variety of services to assist students with their academic success, first semester probation students were highly at risk of leaving the college.  The Counseling & Career Center (CCC), which provides academic advising for the college, was charged with evaluating the services in existence.  After completing this assessment, the department was tasked with developing new services based on student need through the development and implementation of a new comprehensive probation plan.

Knowing that students at community colleges struggle with “optional” (McClenney & McClenney, 2010), CCC personnel determined that the new approach must be intentional, with numerous points of contact, and have mandatory components in order to effect an impact on student success. 

Beginning the Work

The work began with the evaluation of services that were already in place.   Students who landed on probation were assigned to an academic advisor.  Each student was then placed into that advisor’s Blackboard organization.  This point of contact provided students with information, connected them to resources, offered guidance, and reminded them of important dates and deadlines.  “First time on probation” students were then mandated to attend an Academic Success Workshop (ASW).  This one-hour workshop is facilitated by an advisor who reviews the policy regarding probation and suspension, discusses academic motivation, helps students identify barriers, establishes available resources, and secures signing of an Academic Success Contract.  Students who do not attend the workshop have a hold prohibiting registration placed on their accounts until they do attend.

Systemic Changes Needed

Next, the CCC looked at systemic changes that could help promote student success on the front end.  A mandatory orientation policy will require all new students with 11 or fewer transferrable credits to attend a New Student Orientation (NSO).  This policy will go into effect in Winter 2015 (construction/renovation limitations and concomitant space issues pushed the initiative back a year). The NSO will provide each student with a wealth of information, a short one-on-one session with an advisor, and hands-on experience in accessing the various pieces of technology that the new student will be required to utilize.  Subsequent to the NSO experience, a mandatory first-year experience course (CLS 100) is required for all first-time college students who did not place into foundational (developmental) courses or who had less than a 3.0 high school GPA (this policy went into effect Winter 2014).  Students take this 10-week, credit-bearing course during their first semester.  The CLS 100 class empowers students by supporting their navigation of the college environment even as they learn specific skills to facilitate academic success.  Course content for CLS 100 was developed by the counselors/advisors and is predominantly taught by these staff members.   A more intensive version of the College Success Course is required for students who test into two or more developmental courses. 

Collaborative Communication Plan

Although GRCC provided all these services, students indicated to advisors that they were not aware of the services and resources available to help them.  The collaborative communication plan was developed out of the need for repeated, intentional interactions with students to help them understand the self-imposed barriers to success they were experiencing. The goal of this comprehensive plan is to involve different populations of faculty and staff around campus and facilitate their outreach to students in an intentional manner over the course of the semester.

The elements of the plan are as follows:

  1. Prior to the semester, the Counseling & Career Center (CCC) reaches out to students who have just failed a class or dropped the prerequisite for an upcoming class.  This contact occurs between semesters, thus driving students to adjust their schedules.  The second contact is to those students who are enrolled in more than 12 credit hours to encourage them to lighten their load until they can work themselves off probation.  Finally, counselors/advisors reach out to students who have built a schedule with poor class combinations (two or more lab sciences or math classes, accounting and economics, or other difficult combinations of courses) to encourage them to adjust their schedules until they come off probation.
  2. During the first week, the College Success Center reaches out to students to see how classes are progressing.  They talk to the students about the syllabi, course expectations, and their course load.  They connect them with resources if any red flags are identified.
  3. During weeks three through five, the CCC sends flyers to faculty with the times and dates of the general workshop series and asks the faculty to encourage attendance and/or offer extra credit for student participation.  The general workshop series consists of 21 different workshops offered at different times and dates, free of charge, to students.  Workshops include topics such as time management, study skills, test-taking, career planning, relationships, transfer planning, note-taking, and other factors which can affect a student’s academic success.
  4. Beginning at approximately weeks four through six, the Enrollment Center contacts students, again checking to see how they are doing in classes.  The primary goal is to encourage enrollment in the upcoming semester, but this contact also provides a further opportunity for a struggling student to make a connection within the college.  Referrals are effected as necessary.
  5. At midterm, the Tutoring Center reaches out to students to encourage use of resources on campus.  They too talk with students about how classes are going, but their primary goal is to encourage early use of services.
  6. The academic departments are then given the names of students listed by their declared major who are on probation.  The departments reach out to these students following midterms.  Through this contact, information or referrals are provided, tailored to a student’s individual needs.

Through these carefully timed, intentional interventions, each student is provided with a number of connections on campus.  The intent is for each student to identify a person with whom to build a relationship. This collaborative work has the support of the provost to help provide buy-in from cross-functional departments across campus.

Weekly announcements are pushed out to probationary students both as an announcement and email.  These communications outline important information for the student based on the week, dates, and deadlines, and include helpful hints, encouragement to come in to talk with a counselor/advisor, and recommendations on available resources.

Lastly, the CCC makes a concerted effort to work with faculty concerning the Early Alert system on campus, reminding faculty of the service and how it could help reach struggling students.  The CCC team encourages faculty to use the system through trainings, in-services, and departmental meetings.

Comprehensive Probation Plan Results

After the first semester the full plan was implemented, the college experienced a reduction of 56 student suspensions, dropping the rate of those suspended from 25% to 20% of the students on academic probation.  In addition, the college realized an increase in the number (from 164 to 175) of students who continued on probation.  Finally, an increase in the number of students who achieved academic good standing after experiencing probation was observed; in Winter 2013, 37% of the students on academic probation achieved good standing.  This number increased in Fall 2013 to 69%.  The CCC team has completed 18 months of this plan and continues to experience similar results.  The following observations were noted:

  • Despite the primary intervention being the first semester the student found themselves on probation, these students continued to find success in subsequent semesters. 
  • Students who attended the ASW achieved at a higher rate.
  • Students who came in to meet with a counselor/advisor achieved at a higher rate.
  • The students who attended an ASW or came in to meet with a counselor/advisor early in the semester (by week four) achieved at a higher rate.

Clearly, this high-touch, multi-faceted approach coordinated by the CCC provides ample opportunity for students to connect with faculty and staff.  Resources are emphasized by a variety of college personnel, and students begin to feel empowered to make positive changes in their academic standing rather than viewing probation as a punitive measure.  This difference in perception is the beginning of the path to academic success.








Winter 2012







Summer 2012







Fall 2012







Winter 2013







Summer 2013







Fall 2013







Key: PRB1= first time on probation, PRBC= continued probation, SUSP=suspended, %PRB to SUSP is the % of probation students from previous semester who were suspended (our key indicator)

Authors’ Note: When “advisor” is mentioned, it should be noted that at GRCC 90% of the advisors are also licensed professional counselors.

Lynnae Selberg, MA, LPC, CRC
Program Director for Counseling & Career Center
Grand Rapids Community College
[email protected]

Vicki Maxa, Ed.D., LPC
Assistant Professor/Counselor
Grand Rapids Community College
[email protected]

Erin Busscher, MA
Transfer & Articulation Coordinator
Grand Rapids Community College
[email protected]

References/Helpful Links:

Higgins, E. M.  (2003). Advising students on probation.  NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising web site: http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Advising-students-on-probation.aspx

Lucier, K. L.  (2014). Academic probation.  http://collegelife.about.com/od/academiclife/g/Academic-Probation.htm

McClenney, K. and McClenney, B. (Eds) (2010).  Reflections on leadership for student success. Austin, TX:  The University of Texas at Austin, Community College Leadership Program.


Cite this article using APA style as: Selberg, L., Maxa, V., & Busscher, E. (2014, December). Life after probation. Academic Advising Today, 37(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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