Brock program offers new path for students facing academic suspension
Across Canada, some 20 per cent of college students and 15 per cent of university students fail to graduate within five years. A number of them drop out of school altogether or are forced to leave because of poor academic performance. In the challenge to improve student success, Brock University’s Alternative to Academic Suspension Program (AASP) holds promise for students facing academic suspension.
Commissioned by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO), An Evaluation of the “Alternative to Academic Suspension Program ” at Brock University assesses the effectiveness of AASP. Introduced in fall 2009 to address the skills development of students facing academic suspension, the program was designed by the Brock University Student Development Centre’s Learning Skills Services group to enhance academic performance, increase engagement and establish higher retention and graduation rates.
Students at Brock who were facing academic suspension had the option of participating in the pilot program and taking a reduced course load rather than being suspended. They were required to successfully complete the non-credit AASP course, which focused on a number of skills including critical thinking, time management, reading, writing, note-taking, handling stress, presentations, problem solving and test/exam preparation. The students also had to receive a passing grade on each of their undergraduate credit courses and achieve a minimum overall 60 per cent average. Failure to meet these conditions resulted in academic suspension at the end of the fall/winter session.
A total of 445 students were facing academic suspension during fall 2009, and 42 per cent of those students participated in the AASP pilot. Academic records were analyzed to assess the impact of AASP on the return rate of students facing academic suspension. For AASP participants, the records included the overall average of students pre- and post-AASP, their entry year at Brock, and an indication of whether these students opted to return to study at Brock in fall 2010. Although some students elected not to return to Brock, it is unknown whether they chose to study elsewhere.
The impact of AASP on participant attitudes was assessed using data from a pre/post MINDSET Inventory. This diagnostic tool measures participant attitudes toward seven components shown to affect academic success: motivation, initiative, navigation, direction, study skills, expectations, and time management.
Initial results of the program are positive, with students persisting in their studies and 67 per cent experiencing an increase in their overall grade average after completing the program. Half of the participants returned to studies in fall 2010 while only 17 per cent of students who chose not to participate returned after serving their suspension.
Self-assessment of student MINDSET indicators at the beginning and end of the AASP indicated a 21 to almost 28 per cent improvement in all the key indicators, with time management and study skills improving the most.
Still, there were some students who did not persist in their studies. Students who missed even one AASP class were less likely to return to the institution in the following academic year. The data suggest that students facing suspension more than two years after entering Brock could be less likely to participate in AASP. Students opting to participate in AASP with overall academic averages of 50 per cent or less were less likely to return to studies the following year; instructors/advisors may need to provide additional support for these students.
The authors say that an electronic survey or focus groups of past participants would inform program improvement and help to better understand the decision-making process for those students who were eligible to return to studies, but chose not to. The authors note that continued tracking of students both from the pilot and subsequent years will be important to fully assess the program. Additional demographic data should be incorporated into future tracking data including gender, age, route of entry and full- or part-time status.
An Evaluation of the “Alternative to Academic Suspension Program ” at Brock University was prepared by Brock University’s Student Development Centre.