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Success course intervention for students on academic probation in science majors: A longitudinal quantitative examination of the treatment effects on performance, persistence, and graduation

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2011
Dissertation
Author: Shelley M McGrath
Abstract:
With increasing external and internal pressure to increase retention and graduation rates in select colleges along with increasing numbers of college-going populations over time, student affairs professionals have responded with a variety of programs to support students' transition to college. This study sought to examine freshman students in science majors went on academic probation at the end of their first semester. If these students did not raise their GPAs quickly, they faced academic dismissal from the institution. Consequently, the institution would not be able to retain them, and ultimately, they would not graduate. Managerial professionals at the institution created, implemented, and evaluated an intervention in the form of a success course for these students to help get them back on track, retain them, and ultimately graduate from the institution. The literatures drawn upon for this study included retention theory, probationary student behaviors and attitudes, interventions, success courses, fear appeal theories, academic capitalism, and institutional isomorphism. The study employed tests including chi-square, logistic regressions, and differences-in-differences fixed effects regressions to identify the differences and effects on performance, persistence, and graduation rates of the treatment and comparison groups. The findings of this study showed significant differences between the persistence and graduation rates of the treatment and control groups, and regression effects showed a short-term causal effect on performance as well as significant likelihoods of persisting and graduating within four or five years. Recommendations for further improvements to interventions are discussed in the final chapter.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

LIST OF TABLES ………………………………………………………………………..8

LIST OF FIGURES……………………………………………………………………... 10

ABSTRACT ……………………………………………………………………………... 11

CHAPTER ONE -

INTRODUCTION………………………………………………… ... 12

CHAPTER TWO -

LITERA TURE REVIEW………………………………………… . ..20

CHAPTER THREE -

CONEPTUAL FRAMEWORK………………………………… .. 43

CHAPTER FOUR -

METHODS AND FINDINGS, MANUSCRI PT ONE……………. 54

CHAPTER FIVE -

METHODS AND FINDINGS, MANUSCRIPT TWO……………. 72

CHAPTER SIX -

METHODS AND FINDINGS, MANUSCRIPT THRE E….………...98

CHAPTER SEVEN -

DISCUSSION.………………………………………………….112

APPENDIX A -

PERSISTENCE TO 2 ND

YEAR RESULTS, MANUSCRIPT 2……..137

APPENDIX B -

PERSISTENCE TO 3 RD

YEAR RESULTS, MANUSCRIPT 2.……..138

APPENDIX C -

PERSISTENCE TO 4 TH

YEAR RESULTS, MANUSCRIPT 2.. ….....139

APPENIDIX D -

GRADUATE WITHIN 4 YEARS RESULTS, MANUSCRIPT 2…..140

APPENDIX E -

GRADUATE WITHIN 5 YEARS RESULTS, MANUSCRIPT 2…...141

7

APPENDIX F -

GRADUATE WITHIN 6 YEARS RESULTS, MANUSCRIPT 2...…142

APPENDIX G -

MESSAGE TO STUDENTS ABOUT THE INTERV ENTION……..143

APPENDIX H -

COURSE SYLLABUS……………………………………………….145

APPENDIX I

-

COMMUNICATION TO STUDENTS ON PROBATION …………...150

APPENDIX J -

COMMUNICATION REGARDING CONTRACT……….………….151

APPENDIX K

SAMPLE ACADEMIC C ONTRACT…………… .. ……….………..152

REFERENCES………… ………………………………………………………………155

8

LIST OF TABLES

TABLE 1 -

INSTITUTIONAL DATA…………………………………………………..58

TABLE 2 -

VARIABLES OF INTEREST, MANUSCRIPT 1……………………….…63

TABLE 3 -

T - TEST RESULTS FOR ACADEMIC CHARACTERISTICS,

MANUSCRIPT 1………………………………………………………………………...67

TABLE 4 -

CHI - SQUARE RESULTS FOR DEMOGRPHIC VARIABLES,

MANUSCRIPT 1………………………………………………………………………...68

TABLE 5 -

CHI - SQUARE RESULTS FOR DEPENDENT VARIABLES,

MANUSCRIPT 1…………………………………………………………………….…..71

TABLE 6 -

VARIABLES OF INTEREST, MANUSCRIPT 2………………………. ....78

TABLE 7 -

DESCRIPTIVES FOR CO - VARIATES, MANUSCRIPT 2……………….80

TABLE 8 -

DESCRIPTIVES FOR DEPENDENT VARIABLES,

MANUSCRIPT 2………………………………………………………………………...82

TABLE 9 -

STEP 0 LOGISTIC REGRESSION RESULTS, MANUSCRIPT 2………..86

TABLE 10 –

TRENDS FOR ACADE MIC PREDICTOR VARIABLES………………90

TABLE 11 –

TRENDS FOR DEMOGRAPHIC PREDICTOR VARIABLES…………91

9

TABLE

12 -

VARIABLES OF INTEREST, MANUSCRIPT 3…………………….…104

TABLE 13 -

DIFFERENCES - IN - DIFFERENCES RESULTS………………………..111

10

LIST OF FIGURES

FIGURE 1 -

CONCEPTUAL FRAME WORK, MANUSCRIPT 1……………………..51

FIGURE 2 -

THEORETICAL APPLICATIONS OF THE INTERVENTION…….…...52

FIGURE 3 -

CONCEPTURAL FRAMEWORK, MANUSCRIPT 3……………………53

FIGURE 4

-

DIFFERENCES - IN - DIFFERENCES

GRAPH, MANUSCRIPT 3………106

11

ABSTRACT

With increasing external and

internal pressure to increase retention and graduation rates in select colleges

along with increasing numbers of college - go ing populations over time, student affairs professionals have responded with a variety of programs

to support students‘ transition t o college .

This study sought to examine f reshman students in science

majors went on academic probation at the end of their first semester. If these students did not raise their GPAs quickly, they faced academic dismissal from the institution . Consequent ly, the institution would not be able to retain them, and ultimately, they would not graduate. Managerial professionals at the institution created, implemented, and evaluated an intervention in the form of a success course for these students to help get t hem back on track, retain them, and ultimately graduate from the institution. The literatures drawn upon for this study included retention theory, probationary student behaviors and attitudes, interventions, success courses, fear appeal theories, academic capitalism, and institutional isomorphism. The study employed tests including chi - square, logistic regressions, and differences - in - differences fixed effects regressions to identify the differences and effects on performance, persistence, and graduation ra tes of the treatment and comparison groups. The findings of this study showed significant differences between the persistence and graduation rates of the treatment and control groups, and regression effects showed a short - term causal effect on performance

as well as significant likelihoods of persisting and graduating

within four or five years.

Recommendations for further improvements to interventions are discussed in the final chapter.

12

CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

Researchers have pondered student attrition

and retention in higher education for 40 years (Tinto, 2006). They have developed many theories and extensions of said theories to capture the phenomenon of student persistence and departure (Astin, 1975, 1984; Bean, 1980; Cabrera, Castaneda, Nora, & Hen gstler, 1992; Nora, 2001; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1980; Seidman, 2005; Tinto, 1975, 1982, 1993, 2006).

From an institutional perspective, the retention of college students has been of high importance in many universities since the 1980s when fiscal object ives moved from a philosophy of elitism to one of increased access and continuance for all students (Ear1, 1988; Noel & Levitz, 1983, Russell, 1981). They figured out that it costs less to retain a current student than to lose that student and recruit one to take her place. Also, there is political pressure to increase retention and graduation rates, as legislators representing their constituents must address the problems with retention when families, communities, and the government invest money into these

students with the expectation of these students graduating.

But have students and institutions (along with businesses and political constituents) benefited from this large body of research? Specifically, have students been more successful in college o ver the past 40 years — meaning that they are persisting and graduating at higher rates? And from the institutional perspective, are they seeing higher retention and graduation rates as well?

13

Retention research has not translated well into significant gains

in persistence and graduation rates (Carey, 2005a, 2005b). Despite the massive body of research on student retention, President Obama announced recently that the United States has moved from number 1 in the world of college graduates between the ages of 25 and 34 with at least an associate‘s degree to number 12 over the past 20 years ( D e Nies, 2010).

Currently 40% of the population between the ages of 25 and 34 hold a college degree which President Obama stated needs to be r aised to 60% by the year 2020 (D e Nies, 2010). From 1997 to 2007 enrollment in public, four - year institutions increased by ―26% from 14.5 million to 18.2 million‖ and this increase is greater than the previous ten years which yielded a 14% increase meaning that more people than ever b efore are enrolling in public four - year institutions (National Center for Education Statistics, 2011a ). While the increase in enrollment is encouraging, the graduation rates remained static during this time period: Nationwide, 31% of students graduated i n four years and 57% graduated within 6 years (National Center for Education Statistics, 2011b ).

And yet institutions have been hiring more academic and student support professionals (managerial professionals) over the same period of time with the goals

of increasing student retention and graduation rates (Rhoades & Sporn, 2002). This is not to say that hiring these professionals has not yielded benefits. Along with increased enrollments, there is also reason to believe that students are coming in less

prepared than those in years past. Research in the 1990s showed that 30% of incoming freshmen had reading, writing, and math deficits (Fielstein & Bush, 1998), and there is also evidence that there is a decline in the academic skills of high school stude nts (Jones, Slate, Blake,

14

& Holifield, 1992). This would reinforce the need for faculty and managerial professionals to work with these students to help them succeed.

If students are less prepared now than they were in the past, without resources to help

them succeed, persistence might have declined instead of remaining

static.

Despite the static retention and graduation rates, it would be wrong to assume that retention theories are not being put into practice in the student and academic affairs arenas in

higher institutions. At the site of this study — a large, public, four - year, Doctoral Extensive university --

a program was designed that put theory into practice and intervened when Freshmen students on academic probation faced the threat of academic dism issal. For many of these students the threat of academic dismissal would lead to involuntary departure,

and this was an opportunity that managerial professionals -- along with the support of college deans -- embraced in hopes of increasing freshman retention and graduation rates. Managerial professionals coordinated the intervention, developed the curriculum, taught the course, and evaluated the retention and graduation outcomes of the course. These professionals (usually academic advisors) sought to use thei r expertise and understanding of college transition challenges and translate how to overcome these challenges in a classroom setting. They decided to teach the course during the second semester rather than during the first, because they felt that students

come in over - confident and quite possibly would not heed the intervention if they were no yet in academic jeopardy.

15

Students typically come to college expecting to be successful. In fact, in the 2001 national study, The American Freshman: National Norms for Fall 2001,

44.1% reported earning an A average in high school and 57.5% reported that they expected to maintain at least a B average GPA while in college ( Sax, Lindholm, Astin, Korn, & Mahoney, 2001 ). Despite that expectation, there is a departure fr om reality; students still go on academic probation, which means that they are not meeting minimum GPA requirements at a given university. For the purposes of this study, academic probation is defined as those students who go on academic probation (a GPA b elow 2.0) after their first semester in college. These students are at risk of attrition, because students who earn below a 2.0 GPA for two consecutive semesters were eligible for dismissal from the university. Tinto (1975) referred to this as involuntar y departure.

If students leave because they have a low GPA and face involuntary departure, it is important to consider why the GPA is low. Tinto (1987) stated ―Academic difficulty (and therefore academic dismissal) typically reflects a situation in which the demands of the academic system prove too great‖ (p. 117). That statement seems to be somewhat defeatist in context though — making the assumption that nothing can be done for these students. In this case, an effective intervention could be the solution for these students, so they learn to meet the demands of the academic system, and thus, remain in college and graduate.

There is a great deal of literature about students on academic probation and interventions for these students ( Abelman & Molina, 2001 ; Austin, Cherney, Crowner, &

16

Hill, 1997; Brocato, 2000; Coleman & Freedman, 1996; Earl, 1988; Trumpy, 2006 ). But t here is little to no literature

on the persistence and graduation rates of probationary students who participate in an intervention in the fo rm of a success course.

This could be in part because of the tensions that exist between faculty and managerial professionals with regard to teaching credit - bearing courses that are not considered ―academic‖ by many faculty members. Since faculty and dean s decide on curriculum, it can be challenging to obtain approval for the development of a success course — particularly one for students who are perceived as failing. And yet, managerial professionals would argue that these courses are not remedial (the ant ithesis of academic) but rather a supplemental course that guides students through the highly complex process of being a student in modern postsecondary educational settings. The large classroom sizes, competing interests of organizational units with rega rd to students, increased academic expectations, bureaucratic systems, students‘ financial burdens and family commitments can be very overwhelming for today‘s college student — many of whom have trouble navigating a complex system. There are also competing interests at work: faculty have teaching and research commitments that supersede service activities when one is not yet tenured; academic advisors carry heavy caseloads which can result in limited access to advising or compromised quality of interactions.

Tenure expectations and heavy advising caseloads could compromise the quality of interactions that a student has with an institution, and Tinto (1975) stated that the quality of interactions between the student and the institution was paramount to student

persistence. If the demands of an institution are too great for probationary students as Tinto suggests compounded by poor quality interactions with the

17

institution, then students who are struggling academically are in even greater danger of departing. It would seem then that success courses taught by academic advisors would help faculty, who do not have a great deal of time to offer these students assistance, and for advisors, would allow them to teach in a group setting, rather than conducting intrusiv e advising one - on - one, and/or coordinating peer mentor programs — both of which would demand a great deal of advisors‘ time.

Not only is little published about success courses for probationary students, but also the approach administrators use to engage st udents with the intervention. Given the effects of going on academic probation combined with expectations for success during the first semester, there is no question that these students suffered a blow to their self - worth in terms of their abilities to su cceed as college students. Working with probationary students requires a great deal of sensitivity to their plight but also aggressive interventions that require students to participate. The approach that managerial professionals use to engage students w ith the intervention is as important as the intervention itself.

To address retention issues particularly with regard to f reshman students who go on academic probation at the end of their first semester, managerial professionals at the site of this study

designed, implemented, and taught a success course during the second semester for students who went on probation during their first semester. The goal of the course was to increase their chances of persisting and ultimately graduating in a timely

18

manner.

The course was a one - credit course for grade that was required and began to be

offered in spring

2005.

The works of Vincent Tinto (1975, 1993), Ronald Rogers (1975), Paul DiMaggio and Walter Powell (1983), Alexander Astin (1984), Kim Witte (1992), and

Sheila Slaughter and Gary Rhoades (2004) serve as the theoretical framework of this study. The

theoretical concepts include the attitudes and behaviors required of students to persist, putting those theories into practice in the form of a curriculum withi n a success course, appealing to students‘ fears of academic dismissal as a mechanism to engage them (along with efficacy and support messaging), and finally, who teaches and coordinates these courses in the contexts of market -

and economy - driven, isomorph ic, and professionalization phenomena. This study will also draw upon related literature describing interventions for students on academic probation, success courses, stratification in higher education, Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) co ncerns, and perceived beliefs students hold about themselves. None of these theories are directly tested in this study; rather, they will frame the discussion in terms of what the findings could mean in the context of the framework.

This dissertation form at departs somewhat from traditional dissertation format in an effort to extract three publishable manuscripts from its contents. Chapter One contains the traditional introduction, Chapter Two examines relevant literature, Chapter Three describes the conc eptual framework, Chapters Four, Five, and Six contain separate methods and findings for each of the three planned manuscripts with a description of the

19

research site and any common data reported once in Chapter Four. Chapter Six summarizes key findings w ithin the framework of the research questions, provides a conclusion, and includes a set of recommendations resulting from the interpretations of the findings as they relate to the frameworks of this study. Future research topics and conclusions with pers onal commentary related to the findings are als o discussed.

The research questions examined in this study are:

Manuscript One:

Is there a significant difference in the performance, persistence, and graduation rates of probationary f reshman students who t ook a success course compared to those who did not?

Manuscript Two:

What are the best predictors of the likelihood to persist and to graduate?

Which groups are more likely to persist and to graduate, Comparison Group One, Comparison Group Two, or the Tr eatment Group?

Manuscript Three:

Is there a causal a ffect in students‘ academic performance as a result of participating in the success course?

Sub - Question: If so, exactly when does the causal effect occur?

20

CHAPTER TWO

LITERATURE REVIEW

Retention

Altho ugh often challenging, retaining academically struggling students benefits the student and the institution. Retention rates are one measure of institutional success and higher retention rates lead to higher graduation rates — another measure of institution al success. In addition, public institutions have an ethical commitment to assist academically struggling students rather than passively allowing them to fail. For institutions, it costs less to retain a current student than to allow that student to leave and recruit another (Dennis, 1998). Each institution needs to decide how best to serve these at - risk students defined within the context of this article as probationary students. For the purposes of this study, probationary students have a cumulative GPA below 2.0, which indicates they are at risk of dismissal or disqualification.

Barefoot (2000) reported that the proliferation of success courses over the past 20 years is the result of institutional goals to increase the persistence and graduation rates o f their respective student bodies. Many predictors have been identified — and argued against — by researchers as impacting student persistence including socio - economic status (SES), ethnicity, parental - education level, high school ranking, social capital, GP A, SAT scores, and in some cases gender (Blackhurst, 1995; Halle, Kurtz - Costes, & Mahoney, 1997; White, 1982). ). Predictor variables are almost too many to count in contemporary research. Locus of control and self - efficacy are additional predictors sug gested by

21

researchers with complex interactions with other predictor variables (Bandura, 1977; Findley & Cooper, 1983). Locus of control is the personal belief one holds about his or her behaviors can influence a certain result. And self - efficacy is a p ersonal judgment one holds about his or her ability to perform needed actions to achieve desired outcomes (Bandura, 1977). Born of all this research is a multitude of programs in higher education to help students succeed.

Interventions have been developed

to target freshman

students in either Summer Bridge programs or first - year programs (Barefoot, 2000). Interventions exist in many forms, from early, first - year, intensive, and continued (Seidman, 2005). Many of these programs are initiated before a stud ent is in academic trouble and are preventive in nature. And vast research has been done to show that success courses in particular are effective in helping students increase their chances of success in college. However preventive methods can be costly i f they encompass all freshman students, and programs that allow students to self - select are difficult to assess due to the occurrence of selection bias.

College dropout is the highest during a student‘s freshman year of college and is often associated with

a disconnection between the students‘ expectations and the reality of college life (Tinto, 1993). Many colleges and universities employ programs and services to help students adjust and connect successfully to their college since persistence is significa ntly affected by the goodness of fit between the student and institution (Cabrera et al., 1992; Tinto, 1975).

22

With the desire to increase college retention, researchers have tried for many years to understand and predict what factors cause academi c failure. Factors that impact college retention are both external and internal to the institution. For example, parental support, socio - economic status, and individual characteristics, such as student‘s motivation, are all factors external to the instit ution that can affect the likelihood of dropout by a student (Bean, 1980; Cabrera et al., 1992; Pascarella &

Terenzini, 1980; Tinto, 1975, 1982).

Internal or institutional factors that influence retention include academic and social integration, as well a s institutional commitment (Bean, 1980; Cabrera et al., 1992; Tinto, 1975) . Although it is important to be aware of external factors, this study will focus on the internal factors that affect retention.

Researchers like Tinto and Bean believe that the higher the student‘s level of commitment to college completion, the greater the probability of persistence ( Bean, 1980; Cabrera et al., 1992, ). Attrition is related to the quality of interactions between a student and the educational environment ;

i f a student has insufficient or unsatisfactory interactions with the college collectively, the likelihood of remaining committed to the in stitution is greatly decreased.

But this is not just a matter of commitment followed with a behavior. A student c ould be committed and behave accordingly, but if a student has insufficient or unsatisfactory interactions with the college collectively, the likelihood of remaining committed to the institution is greatly decreased (Tinto, 1975). Thus, the inability to in tegrate socially and academically into the college system often leads to college dropout (1975). It is therefore important for institutions of higher education to create opportunities that increase and prolong the contact between the individual and the

23

in stitution (peers, faculty, administration, etc.) in order to improve retention rates and deter college dropout. Many colleges and universities employ programs and services to help students adjust and connect successfully to their college since persistence

is significantly affected by the goodness of fit between the student and institution ( Cabrera et al., 1992; Tinto, 1975 ). Seidman (2005) noted

that early identification, early intervention, and sometimes intensive and continuous interventions are requir ed to help students persist. Many faculty and administrators of higher education proposed that obtaining more talented and academically - prepared students is the solution to high attrition rates, but this not an option, as more and more students from divers e backgrounds flock to college (Kuh, Kinzie, Schuh, & Witt, 2010). Kuh et al. (2010) proposed that the better solution would be to increase student engagement.

This perception is not only a realistic response given the increased enrollment goals of some public universities, but also supports social justice advocates‘ desire for increased access for underrepresented groups.

Pascarella and Terenzini (1991) pointed out similarities between Tinto‘s (1975, 1993) student interactionalist theory and Astin‘s (198 4) student development theory based on student involvement. Both researchers found connections between the quality and quantity of involvement to student persistence. Astin (1984) stated that ―student involvement refers to the amount of physical and psyc hological energy the student devotes to the academic experience‖ (p. 297). Tinto (1993) postulated that involvement with peers and faculty has a positive relationship with the quality of effort exerted by students and persistence. Milem and Berger (1997)

pointed out that both researchers

24

emphasize behavior as a str ong component of involvement. They

also traced the level of institutional commitment as it relates to involvement behavior finding that low levels of social involvement (of the organized kind ve rsus traditional) led to lower levels of institutional commitment, and thus, a greater likelihood of departure. Milem and Berger (1997) found that low levels of academic involvement had little effect on student departure. However, the site of the study w as at a small, highly selective, private institution. In a large, public institution, low levels of academic involvement have an effect on student departure, because those who perform poorly face academic dismissal from the university. Essentially, studen ts who are involved are likely to persist, while students who are not involved are not as likely to persist, but there is a distinction for students on academic probation: It is possible that these students want to persist but fail to so because of poor p erformance. The desire to continue is there and could be a sign of commitment to their education, but the poor performance is reflective of their behaviors and not necessarily their attitude . Within the group of students who are on academic probation, it

is important to note too, that there is a probably a proportion of this group that does not have the same level of commitment as others and therefore, their commitment and behaviors reflect in their performance. I assume for the purposes of this study th at the majority of students on academic probation have a desire to persist in college and sufficient

levels of commitment.

Astin (1984) referred specifically to characteristics and behaviors that help students to persist: motivation, the level of time and energy they exert in and out of the classroom, the balance of using time as a finite resource, involvement in extracurricular

25

activities, like sports, sororities, fraternities, ROTC, and professors‘ undergraduate research projects (Astin ,

1975). Astin (19 84) also found that academic involvement in the form of time and energy spent on studies, level of interest, and good study habits, tended to show less likelihood of negative peer influence and hedonism that can negatively impact performance and persistenc e. Also, students who interact with faculty get involved with student government and athletics persist at higher rates.

A l of these involvement behaviors pointed to higher levels of satisfaction and thus, greater commitment, and as a result less chance of

Full document contains 164 pages
Abstract: With increasing external and internal pressure to increase retention and graduation rates in select colleges along with increasing numbers of college-going populations over time, student affairs professionals have responded with a variety of programs to support students' transition to college. This study sought to examine freshman students in science majors went on academic probation at the end of their first semester. If these students did not raise their GPAs quickly, they faced academic dismissal from the institution. Consequently, the institution would not be able to retain them, and ultimately, they would not graduate. Managerial professionals at the institution created, implemented, and evaluated an intervention in the form of a success course for these students to help get them back on track, retain them, and ultimately graduate from the institution. The literatures drawn upon for this study included retention theory, probationary student behaviors and attitudes, interventions, success courses, fear appeal theories, academic capitalism, and institutional isomorphism. The study employed tests including chi-square, logistic regressions, and differences-in-differences fixed effects regressions to identify the differences and effects on performance, persistence, and graduation rates of the treatment and comparison groups. The findings of this study showed significant differences between the persistence and graduation rates of the treatment and control groups, and regression effects showed a short-term causal effect on performance as well as significant likelihoods of persisting and graduating within four or five years. Recommendations for further improvements to interventions are discussed in the final chapter.