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Joy A. Cox, Probation/Dismissal/Reinstatement Issues Interest Group Chair

Joy Cox.jpgTransitioning from high school to college is a life-changing event for all students, but may be even more challenging for students who are academically underprepared. Students who are cited in the literature as being underprepared for college are labeled “at-risk” based on their academic background, prior academic performance, and personal characteristics (Museus and Ravello, 2010; Pizzolato, 2004; Tovar and Simon, 2006). Students characterized as at-risk academically lack prior knowledge of college expectations and find themselves having to make adjustments to learning in order to make up for this knowledge.  This produces added stress as they cope with professors and peers who expect them to enter college with certain academic skills.

Students characterized as first-generation college students as well as racial and ethnic minorities are especially considered academically “at-risk” and are potentially prone to academic failure and attrition (Museus and Ravello, 2010; Pizzolato, 2004; Tovar and Simon, 2006). According to Museus and Ravello (2010), more than half of minority undergraduate students will fail to complete a bachelor’s degree within six years of matriculation. Tovar and Simon (2006) found that about 39% of Latino freshmen were on academic probation after their first semester at large community colleges in California. They argued that students on academic probation are less likely to graduate since they might become disheartened and drop out or they may be academically dismissed. Consequently, teaching at-risk students to develop coping skills becomes important since it will affect what type of assistance they will pursue in order to be successful (Pizzolato, 2004).

Therefore, it becomes imperative that academic advisors provide support and guidance to assist this population with intellectual development by examining their whole life experiences. This population of students may question whether they belong in college, and the role of the advisor is to use theoretical frameworks as a tool for achieving student success. The academic advisor should be sensitive to the needs of this population, using developmental theories to assist students in developing strategies and coping skills.  One theory that may be used to inform work with underprepared students on academic probation is Schlossberg’s transition theory.

Schlossberg’s Transition Theory

According to Tovar and Simon (2006), Schlossberg developed a transition model that can be adapted to apply to first generation and minority freshmen, addressing crises that may arise as they adjust to life in college. The model describes both anticipated and unanticipated events and non-events “that result in changed relationships, routines, assumptions and roles” (p. 550). In the life of freshmen, attending college may be an anticipated transition, but being on academic probation at the end of their first semester is an unexpected event. Schlossberg describes four sets of potential resources that advisors may use with freshmen to cope with this crisis. These include paying attention to the assets (gains) and liabilities (losses) that they bring to this transition in areas of self, strategies, situation and support (Evans, Forney, Guido, Patton and Renn, 2010; Tovar and Simon, 2006). These “Four S’s” provide the theoretical framework for students to assist them in evaluating their circumstances. This may require a new focus on self-control and students may ask themselves these questions:

Self: In what ways have my activities contributed to my current status?

Situation: What factor(s) has caused the low grades in these courses? How has my behavior influenced my probationary status?

Support: What types of support systems are currently in my life? How may I develop these support systems further?

Strategies: What techniques do I need to utilize to resolve this crisis?

After identifying these challenges the advisor should assist the student with designing an action plan to implement the strategies.

Schlossberg postulated that dealing with a transition is a process that extends over time, including three phases of transition:

Moving in: becoming aware of the transition event

Moving through: experiencing the effect of the transition

Moving out: post-transition

According to Tovar and Simon (2006), students on academic probation may be in any one of these phases. However probationary students seem to be in the ‘moving in’ or ‘moving through’ phases and the role of the academic advisor is to assist them in successfully resolving the crisis so they can return to good academic standing.

However, first-year college students may find it difficult to actively take charge of this situation because they have never been in this situation before. Advisors, using a holistic approach, should discuss both students’ academic experiences and their life situations.  Research has shown that holistic advising has a positive impact on student success (Museus & Ravello, 2010; Pizzolato, 2004). Tovar and Simon (2006) point out that it is not enough for advisors to show probationary students care and concern or to teach them study habits or time management skills; we also need to teach them how to evaluate and overcome the many complex situations in both their academic and personal lives since students isolate educational success from other aspects of their lives. Advisors may plan an intervention that addresses both the academic and psychosocial components that has led to the crisis. Consequently, advisors may conduct both group and individual sessions (Tovar and Simon, 2006). Academic advisors can conduct workshops for students on academic probation which will introduce the need for self- examination using Schlossberg’s “Four S” questions. The academic advisor can easily create a worksheet by listing questions under each of the important aspects for self-reflection and discussion. The worksheet may include a “gains and losses” section to help students identify supports and challenges (Evans et al., 2010). The advisor can then follow up the workshops with one-on-one advising sessions (Tovar and Simon, 2006). The adage Advising is Teaching is applicable where advisors use developmental theories to help students on academic probation enhance their education.

Joy A. Cox
Academic Advisor
School of Natural Sciences
Indiana University Southeast
[email protected]


Evans, N.J., Forney, D.S., Guido, F.M., Patton, L.D., & Renn, K.A. (2010). Student development in college: Theory and practice (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass.

Museus, S.D. & Ravello, J. N. (2010). Characteristics of academic advising that contribute to racial and ethnic student success at predominantly white institutions. NACADA Journal, 30(1), 47-58.

Pizzolato, J.E. (2004). Coping with conflict: Self-authorship, coping, and adaptation to college in first-year, high-risk students.  Journal of College Student Development, 45(4), 425-442. doi:11353/csd.2004.0050

Tovar, E. & Simon, M. (2006). Academic probation as a dangerous opportunity: factors influencing diverse college students' success. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 30, 547-564. doi:10.1080/10668920500208237

Cite this article using APA style as: Cox, J.A. (2013, December). Teaching coping skills to first-year college students on academic probation. Academic Advising Today, 36(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]


# Lisa
Tuesday, February 4, 2014 6:33 PM
Very interesting article I also find using motivational interviewing and helping students understand their level of commitment to change is helpful when advising first year and probation students.

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