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CONTACT: Bruce Smith
Public Information Officer
(310) 434-4209
DATE: March 30, 2004


A special Santa Monica College program that dramatically improves the academic standing, course completion and persistence rates of students on academic probation has won a national award.

The National Council on Student Development, an affiliate of the American Association of Community Colleges, gave the 2004 “Best Practice Award” to SMC’s Student Enhancement & Educational Research (SEER) Project. The council cited the program’s effectiveness, quality, significance to the field and adaptability of strategies to other colleges. This is the second year in a row that counselors in SMC’s Student Success Project, which oversees SEER, have won the award.

“We’re extremely pleased once again to have been honored with this national award,” said counselor Esau Tovar, who heads up the SEER Project. “It is testimony to the value of a sound research design and well-thought-out intervention strategies aimed at improving student success.”

The program was started in summer 2002 and has included nearly 2,000 students since it began. The program specifically targets students who are on probation – either because of poor grades or a low completion rate of attempted coursework. SMC has long been concerned that about one-third of SMC’s first-time college students end up on probation, making them at risk of dropping out of college.

After careful research, counselors devised a three-pronged approach to improve the academic achievement of these students: “re-orientation” sessions (the primary strategy), at least twice-a-semester visits with counselors, and English and math placement exams.

A year-long study of probationary students completed in fall 2003 showed the program had a dramatic effect on their academic achievements. Findings included:

• Half the students who attended the re-orientation went off probation.
• The persistence rate – percentage of students who continued their studies the following semester – was 72 percent for those who had attended re-orientation, compared to 23 percent for students who did not.
• Students who completed the English and math assessment tests – regardless of placement level – attained a higher course completion rate, 62 percent, compared to those who opted not to take the test, 49 percent for English and 48 percent for math.

Counselors focused on small groups – 10 to 15 students – in the re-orientation sessions, which were offered in the summer and winter before the fall and spring semesters. The sessions were tailored to the probationary students, covering such issues as student history; commitment to college; academic motivation; balancing of school, work and personal commitments; and the importance of connecting with professors and peers. Counselors focused on study techniques, family responsibilities, balancing work with school, and more.

Most of the students who attended the re-orientation sessions also followed through with counseling and with taking the placement tests.

Tovar said that given the success of the project, the re-orientation sessions are ongoing and continue to be expanded to accommodate more students.

Counselors working on this project, aside from Tovar, were Melissa Edson, faculty leader; Juliana Parker; Rosilynn Tilley; and former SMC counselor Merril Simon.

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