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Dawn Henderson, North Carolina State University

Achieving in college is the proverbial mountain that so many students face. For some students, specifically those coming from disadvantaged backgrounds, the mountain presents a daunting task and they are unsure about whether they have the tools or ability to reach the top. These students can be called our “at risk” students or students who are on the edge of academic failure. As a new advisor in the College of Education, I was responsible for creating a success plan that would address the needs of students having academic difficulty. So here I was, standing at the top of the mountain and attempting to map out a plan that would support the students in their climb to success.

The College of Education is considered a competitive college in its admission standards and has one of the highest cumulative and graduation GPA averages at the University. However, students entering the College as undecided tend to have the lowest cumulative GPAs at the end of the first year. With the formation of a centralized advising model, I had the responsibility of developing a plan that would address the academic needs of EDU (Education-Undecided) students having academic difficulty and eventually become a component of an Academic Advising and Connections Center. The following reflects an outline of the plan and its role in improving student success.

What is a Student Success Plan?

The first step in developing the plan was to understand the components of the College’s advising philosophy. Due to the size of our student population and our commitment to student development, the College takes an Intrusive Advising approach. Earl (1988) defined Intrusive Advising as an action-oriented model that involves and motivates students to seek help when needed. Intrusive Advising incorporates both prescriptive and developmental advising strategies by providing a specific program of action to students having academic difficulty. In a success plan, an academic advisor identifies specific strategies that can provide the student with the means to improve their academic progress. Many of these strategies include: additional advising, tutoring, workshops, and completing a contract with specified guidelines.

Our Student Success Plan

The remaining summer months were spent reviewing and revising the plan for implementation in the 2006 – 2007 academic year. After revisions and reviews, the plan included:

  • Student Letter: The letter took an advocacy approach to students and discussed the importance of choices and support. The letter also explained the Student Success Plan and responsibility of the student to meet with the advisor.
  • Student Information & Expectation Sheet: The sheet requires students to provide updated contact information, review and check off student expectations for the plan, list advising appointments (a minimum of three required visits on a bi-weekly basis), review recommendations made by the advisor, and then provide signatures from both student and advisor.
  • Academic Obstacles & Solutions Worksheet: The worksheet required students to list three obstacles, provide possible solutions, and detail how the proposed solutions would assist the student in overcoming the specified obstacles. Students were also required to develop a goal and list some possible steps to achieving this goal.
  • Academic & Personal Goals Worksheet: The worksheet was a component of the initial advising session with the student where the student and the advisor would discuss reasons why the student was at the University, short- and long-term goals, and steps needed to achieve goals.
  • Resource Referral Form: The completed form was provided to the department/center that the advisor recommended as a resource (Counseling and Undergraduate Tutorial Centers, Career Services, etc.) for students. The form helped personnel within these service areas determine if the student attended sessions and whether their primary concerns were addressed.

Using university grade reports at the end of each semester, I identified students and sent letters and copies of the plan to EDU students with GPAs less than 2.2. Although the University has a 2.0 requirement to maintain good academic standing, students with a 2.2 GPA in the College do not meet the requirement to transfer into a teacher education program. These students are also less likely to meet the GPA intra-campus transfer requirements for any other majors at the University; therefore, they become “stuck” as EDU students.

Climbing the Mountain

The academic year was filled with many challenges for the students, but somehow they still began the journey up the mountain. From the plan’s evaluation, it was evident that the students believed that the advisor identified relevant strategies and campus resources to assist them in improving their academic outcomes. Additionally, the students believed the Student Success Plan was helpful to students having academic difficulty. One student, who served as the inspiration for this article, commented:

It’s important to have an end goal and end results in mind, while trying to climb these academic hills/mountains…These success plans help us to look past these little hurdles and continue on with our end result in mind. Keeps you focused and on track!

There are numerous factors that can impact academic performance, e.g., student-institution fit, academic preparation, and instruction. However, this model demonstrates the role of academic advising in serving as a conduit for student success by connecting them to campus resources and serving as an advocate for their academic journey.

We are slowly approaching the half-way mark to the top of the mountain; many of these students had significant improvements in their cumulative GPAs from the fall to spring semester. For the College, the Student Success Plan provides a step-by-step model that incorporates Intrusive Advising and proactive communication between the advisor and student. In this model, the advisor provided the support needed for students to reach their goals. Likewise students displayed a commitment to use recommended strategies and showed their motivation to achieve specified goals.

If you would like a copy of the Student Success Plan and report, please e-mail Dawn Henderson at dawnxhen@aol.com or dawn_henderson@ncsu.edu.

Dawn Henderson
Assistant Director, Student Involvement
College of Education
North Carolina State University


Earl, W. R. (1988). Intrusive Advising of Freshmen.NACADA Journal, 8 (2), 27 – 33.

Habley, W. R., Crockett, D. S. (1988). The third ACT national survey of academic advising. In W. R. Habley (ed.),The Status and Future of Academic Advising(pp. 11 – 76). Iowa City, IA: American College Testing Program.

Heisserer, D. L. (2002). Advising at-risk students in college and university settings. Retrieved on June 1, 2007 fromCollege Student Journalwebsite:http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0FCR/is_1_36/ai_85007770

Project Success. (2007). Retrieved on May 31, 2007 from Virginia Tech’s Center for Academic Enrichment and Excellence website:http://www.caee.vt.edu/programs/project_success.html

Cite this article using APA style as: Henderson, D. (2007, September). Mountains to climb. Academic Advising Today, 30(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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