Anna Lincoln and Lynwood R. Johnson, University of Nevada, Reno
Natalia Musgrove, California State University, East Bay
Editor’s Note: Learn more on this topic—and review this team’s contribution—in the NACADA Pocket Guide, Advising Students on Academic Probation, 2nd edition.
The College of Liberal Arts (CLA) at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) is the largest college on campus, serving nearly 4,000 undergraduate students. The college offers traditional and interdisciplinary majors in arts, humanities, and social sciences, which are further complemented by a wide spectrum of minor options. The advising load in the college is shared between faculty and full-time professional advisors, with the latter providing the bulk of probation advising. Historically, the number of students on academic probation in any given semester ranges from 5% to 9% of CLA’s overall undergraduate enrollment, thus significantly affecting retention and graduation rates. To alleviate this issue, the CLA Student Center implemented a high-involvement intervention model that allows for individual differences (Abelman & Molina, 2001; Asbury, Lively, & Eckerty, 2014; Drake, 2011; Karp, 2014; Kirk-Kuwaye & Nishida, 2001; Molina & Abelman, 2000; Vander Shee, 2007) to effectively assist probationary students and facilitate their success.
The Probation and Dismissal Process
Students maintain good academic standing as long as their university cumulative GPA remains above 2.00. Academic standing is checked at the end of every regular semester (fall and spring). If a student falls below 2.00, they are placed on academic probation for the following term. Students on probation receive notification from Admissions & Records regarding the general policies and will also have a probation advising hold placed on their account midway through the term preventing enrollment for the next registration cycle(s) until they have met with an advisor. (For example, a student who falls below 2.00 after the fall 2015 semester will receive a probation advising hold in March 2016 that blocks summer/fall 2016 enrollment.)
A student on probation is given two regular semesters to improve their university GPA back to good standing. If a student is on second semester probation and still fails to raise their GPA above 2.00, then they are dismissed from the university. A student facing dismissal can appeal for a probation extension, but only if it is mathematically possible to reach good academic standing after one additional semester of coursework—subsequent extensions are not typically approved.
Once a student is dismissed, they are not allowed to enroll at the institution for one year. (For example, if a student is dismissed following spring 2016, they cannot take classes again at UNR until summer or fall 2017 at the earliest.) Returning from dismissal is not automatic: the student must apply for release from the dismissal status, show that underlying conditions have improved, and demonstrate that they are now capable of academic success. If released from dismissal, the student will typically have two regular semesters to attain good academic standing. Thus, it is crucial to advise probationary students preventatively to avoid dismissal and ensure timely degree completion.
Probation Advising Model
The high-involvement intervention model encourages developmental advising by providing students with an opportunity to gain knowledge and maintain ownership of their decisions and experiences (Drake, Jordan, & Miller, 2013; Higgins, 2003; Varney, 2012; Wallace, 2007), while at the same time allowing advisors to become an integral part of student success and development (Brooks, 2010; Cruise, 2002; Lowenstein, 2005; Tinto, 1993). In the context of this model, students whose academic performance fell below the institution’s requirement of good standing are expected to partner with college advisors to address their unique struggles. Professional advisors continuously assist each student during the three main phases, using an individualized approach to build personal connection and identify the types of support required, thus embracing diversity.
Phase 1: Personalization. At the end of each semester, the CLA Student Center receives a probation report and divides the caseload among all college advisors. Each advisor personally reaches out to students on their list with hopes to schedule an appointment and establish a relationship of trust.
Phase 2: Integration. The student and advisor discuss previous terms and circumstances that led to the student’s probationary standing. The advisor communicates and clarifies relevant university policies and ramifications of being on probation. Additionally, the advisor reviews the student’s transcript, identifies possible solutions, and creates an individualized plan projecting the grades needed to return to good standing.
Phase 3: Collaboration. The student becomes an active participant of the advising process and takes full responsibility for actions and decisions related to their academics. The advisor continues to follow-up with the student, thus creating a strong partnership that keeps both parties engaged and committed to academic success.
The CLA Student Center initially implemented its intervention model with the fall 2014 probation cohort. The outcomes for each semester’s probation cohorts from fall 2014 to spring 2016 were examined to determine student statuses at the end of the next regular term. Students that had come off probation or were on continued probation were considered positive outcomes since they were still enrolled at the institution, whereas dismissed or discontinued were negative outcomes since the student was not enrolled nor making any progress toward degree completion (Figure 1).
The probation cohorts varied in size and tended to be larger in fall semesters than in spring semesters. (This can, in part, be attributed to new freshmen ending up on probation after their first term constituting a large proportion of the cohort.) Term-to-term comparisons could be a bit inconclusive, but looking year-to-year provided promising results (Figure 2). For example, the fall 2015 probation cohort (244 students) was smaller than the fall 2014 cohort (290 students) but saw a greater percentage of students continuing on at the university (60.2% vs. 52.4%), an increase in students coming off of probation (27.9% vs. 17.6%), and a decrease in students dismissed (11.9% vs. 21.0%). Similarly, spring 2016 compared to spring 2015 had a similar overall cohort size (187 vs. 178) and saw a decline in negative outcomes (50.3% vs. 60.7%) and especially fewer students in discontinued status (36.4% vs. 44.4%).
Overall, the trends after examining two years’ worth of probation outcomes indicate that our interventions are helping probationary students achieve more favorable outcomes and stay on track to graduation.
Figure 1: The outcomes of high-involvement intervention model (raw numbers), 2014–2016.
Figure 2: The outcomes of high-involvement intervention model (percent of cohort), 2014–2016
Moving Forward: A New Approach to Scheduling
The UNR gained access to a new advising software in April of 2016, the Student Success Collaborative (SSC). One feature of the software is the ability to implement appointment campaigns, which allow advisors to conduct outreach to specific student populations. Students receiving the campaign are sent a link via email with the ability to schedule an advising appointment.
The CLA Student Center decided to pilot this option with freshmen needing to attend second semester group advising workshops. Students received an email reminding them of their mandatory attendance. The workshop schedule was provided and students were prompted to use the link to sign up for their preferred session. The college saw a 58% increase in attendance from the previous year when the workshops were advertised via campus flyers and student newsletters. Attendees were surveyed and 95% reported that the online scheduling was convenient.
Due to the success with group advising, the CLA Student Center decided to adapt this approach for outreach to students on academic probation. Students were sent a similar email informing them of their academic standing, but they were prompted to sign up for an individual advising appointment rather than a group session. There were aspects of this appointment campaign that were successful and others that were not.
What Worked. The campaign was comfortable for the student because it maintained a level of confidentiality. Students did not have to call the front office and discuss their probation status over the phone, they simply clicked on the link to schedule their appointment. This also saved resources as administrative support was not needed to schedule individual appointments for each student on probation. The method also allowed the CLA Student Center to implement a solution-focused approach by presenting options within the email, prior to the students coming in for their appointment, such as grade replacement, appeals, and campus resources.
What Did Not Work. There were two main problems identified with the campaign: the method in which students were targeted and the timing in which the campaign was sent. To target students, one can either retrieve the population from their student information system and import the results into SSC or utilize the advanced search function within SSC to retrieve the students. The UNR’s student information system, PeopleSoft, provides the user with the ability to run a student report based on probation hold, which the current version of SSC does not offer. Because of this, the decision was made to use PeopleSoft for targeting and then importing the results into SSC. However, PeopleSoft does not provide the ability to filter out inactive students; therefore, the timing of this process did not provide results conducive to the goal of this campaign. Results showed that 40% of students receiving the campaign were already discontinued and inactive by the time they received it, and only 35% of students actually scheduled an advising appointment.
Future Scheduling Implications. The decision was made to utilize another appointment campaign for the next phase of probation advising; however, the targeting method and timing will be adjusted. The CLA Student Center will use SSC to target students instead of PeopleSoft, so discontinued students can be removed from the communication. The future campaign will be sent earlier in the fall to avoid student withdrawals over winter break. Dismissal and financial aid appeals will be encouraged at this time along with grade replacement opportunities and wintermester courses to increase spring GPA. An additional campaign will be conducted at the start of spring semester and sent to students who are presently taking classes. This new method will prevent discontinued students from receiving the campaign.
The outcomes of applying the high-involvement intervention model to assist students on probation indicate that continuous one-on-one interactions with a concerned advisor have positive effects on student success. This is supported by descriptive analysis and further confirms that preventative advising should not be limited to a college, but rather become a generally essential attribute of the advising practice. The timing of advising outreach is also critical to supporting probationary students at key points. Student engagement and buy-in is best achieved when advisors demonstrate support and guidance. Finally, since each student is unique, they must be assisted using an individualized approach to identify the type of support and assistance required.
Coordinator of Academic Advising
University of Nevada-Reno
Lynwood R. Johnson
University of Nevada-Reno
Pioneer Success Coach
California State University, East Bay
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Cite this article using APA style as: Musgrove, N., Lincoln, A., & Johnson, L.R. (2019, September). One person at a time: Hope for a second chance. Academic Advising Today, 42(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]