Published on 2018/03/22

How Raising the Bar Helps Re-Entry Students Succeed (Part 3)

The EvoLLLution | How to Help Failed Students Succeed: Powerful Lessons from Western Governors University (Part 3)
As increasing numbers of colleges and universities are looking at students with prior college experience but no credential as a promising market, it’s critical to better understand what it takes to support their success during the second (or more) attempt at a postsecondary education.

This series discusses the results of the Pacific Crest Online Recovery Course, exploring how to help students who are returning to postsecondary education learn to learn.

Lessons Learned 

1. Socio-economic-psychological-physical-health vulnerabilities (SEPPV) can and must be addressed

A major focus of The Psychology of Learning and Success course is to develop grit. The students increase their ability to take ownership of their success, leverage failures, turn self-evaluation into self-assessment, persist through these obstacles, use the personal development methodology for self-improvement, become better learners and problem solvers, and realize that failure is not an option

Some of the students understand they could rationalize quitting, but they no longer consider it an option. This is amply demonstrated with the work products created during the first few activities: Who am I?, Performance Analysis of Self, Learning and Moving On, writing about a couple of negative life experiences, and performing a risk analysis

In these work products, it is evident that a high number of personal factors are best classed as SEPPVs. By the end of the course, their work products reflect a can-do attitude and their self-growth papers don’t identify these personal factors as the primary issues preventing success

2. A large percentage of students are no-shows and non-starts

Across the five months, an average of 34 percent of the students were no-shows or non-starts. These students must want it much more than they currently do thus the approach in the re-enrollment process has to be strengthened.

Keeping students in the course is critical, so they can effectively address and work through the tendency for SEPPV to overwhelm them. We must focus on the “do not show” (didn’t even attend the orientation session) and “do not start” population and help them trust that the course process will help them. They need evidence that the course can help so that when they must deal with SEPPV early on, they will allow us to help them persist rather than simply disappearing.

The recruiting process could improve the success rate by instilling a growth mindset and a positive attitude. Students could learn more about the course, its benefits, and the impact of the opportunity. If completers shared their mindsets with incoming students, the change in perception would lead to fewer no-shows and non-starts.

3. Prioritize college

Almost every student expects to complete OTP (obtaining 12 credits) in less than 120 hours of effort in a term. Therefore, they procrastinate until they feel the pressure of the end of term. The Psychology of Learning and Success helps students to discover that they want to identify themselves as collegiate learners and, as a result, work toward building a time management plan that sets aside 20 to 25 hours per week for pursuit of their degree. Students then exit the course with the idea that they will invest 500 hours towards their degree per term, more than four times the initial planned effort and thus a top priority along with family and work.

4. Students expect to pass the course using the same strategies and techniques that previously failed them

Students use the same strategies and behaviors they used at the institution before their removal, but hope for different outcome. When their strategies do not lead to success in the course, they have only two choices: quit or change. If we can get them through the first three experiences (not quitting), their mindsets begin to shift (they change and grow).

5. Time-pressured learning can be accomplished as effectively online as with face-to-face

A major feature of the design of The Psychology of Learning and Success pressures students to increase quality, as seen in the major work products: self-growth papers, success plans, and elevating their critical thinking questions. This was achieved by using time-pressured learning to provide stronger mechanisms for supporting success and growth of quality (e.g., early submission).

6. As the relationship with the facilitator grows, student commitment to strong performance increases

Students build a positive relationship with the course facilitator through

  • Synchronous introduction sessions with six-person groups
  • Mandatory office hours, asking for feedback
  • Attending any online workshop
  • Posting questions to the online facilitator’s office (forum)

The more comfortable with the facilitator students became, the more likely they were to attend an online workshop. And students who took one or more workshops tended to pass the course. A value of taking a workshop is the relationship building between the student and the facilitator. Nonetheless, the performance nature of the workshops did have a long-term impact on student behaviors in the course. Students attending experienced gains in productivity which gave them a stronger base for future performances and success.

7. Students who pass the course shift from “can’t do” to “can do” attitudes

After reading 150 self-growth papers, we have been able to synthesize a great deal of knowledge and have gained many insights. Students stop making excuses where they used to rationalize why not performing wasn’t their fault. They were able to produce convincing evidence that their lack of success was someone else’s fault or just bad luck in life. But by the end of the course, students have accepted full responsibility for their past performances (or lack thereof) and realize that they are in control of producing their own success. There are 15 tasks in the course that significantly contribute to this transformation of attitude. In each, students develop knowledge and apply it to the problems in their life. They then realize how they can improve their situation.

Simultaneously, the course experiences help them address their vulnerabilities. For example, in Experience 3, the Learning and Moving On analysis has a large impact on creating a “can do” attitude. Another important shift occurs from Experience 4 onward, when students begin learning how to replace their self-evaluation (being very judgmental of themselves) with self-assessment (supportive and non-judgmental). This reduces the negative emotional impact of their stories of failure, helping them to focus on cognitive analysis of what they must do differently to improve their life situation.

8. Students value this course because it applies to all aspects of their lives and makes learning fun

Students find that first few experiences of the course challenging. The experiences help them to see aspects of their own lives. They begin to understand more about themselves. They analyze their failed approaches to learning. From this, they start to create habits that make them successful. Consequently, most students need this course. The strongest learners use the concepts, methodologies, strategies, and tools from the course the most and extend them into their professional and personal lives.

This course has seen its share of students who originally did not enjoy learning transformed into students who enjoy discovery and are surprised and pleased to find they now enjoy learning. An important aspect of the course is that it requires them to use the context of their own life. Their thinking and writing is personal and because of being tasked with focusing on their own context and issues, the value of the course increases significantly. It is our contention that the focus on growth is what makes the experience so much more enjoyable.

9. The Psychology of Learning and Success would help all undergraduates

Students who enrolled in The Psychology of Learning and Success had a range of abilities and personal conditions. The strongest of the incoming students (graduate students with previous academic success) are the students who most valued the course.

The students who didn’t successfully complete the course need the course even more. This is evident in the self-growth papers of the students who are retaking the course a second or third time and describe the transformation that produced their success. For example, one student reported, “At the beginning, the very first time I took this course, I was aware of where I was, which was having failed out of my regular courses. I had failed out of my courses 3 times and was almost ready to give up on earning my degree. This is currently my third time going through this course and it took this many times for me to take it seriously. Once I started to take the course seriously, I had set goals for myself to improve on my mindset, which I didn’t realize it was as important as it really is.”

Almost every student identified the course as very beneficial and more than 80 percent of the students described it as life changing. Our projection is that these students’ potential for graduation has significantly increased, and we believe that it would have the same impact on success for every new student.

10. The course is effectively designed to produce significant transformational learning for all students

About 38 million adults have some college but no credential. Students need a course that will empower and excite them. Earning a credential or degree would be a net positive for our society. Most professionals who have become familiar with the course say that it would be advantageous for any professional. The Psychology of Learning and Success helps students entering college and those looking to get back into college. Opportunities for impact could range from 20 to 30 million people.

This was the third of four installments in Leasure and Apple’s series on the Pacific Crest Online Recovery Course. In the fourth installment, they will discuss some of the barriers that the project overcame. For more details on the project, you can download the project report here.

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