College 101 Courses Hold Promise but Need Improvement to Achieve Long-Term Impacts, New Study Finds

NEW YORK, October 22, 2012 — College 101 courses, which serve as extended college orientations for entering students, hold promise for helping students persist in and complete college, but need strengthening to achieve long-term impacts on student outcomes, according to a new study from the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University.

College 101 courses, often referred to as student success courses, typically try to impart non-academic college know-how by providing information about college and campus services, assistance with academic and career planning, and instruction in study habits and personal skills. These courses are based on the premise that non-academic skills and behaviors are often as germane to college success as academic preparation, and are an increasingly popular intervention as two- and four-year institutions seek to improve graduation rates.

The study, which consisted of interviews with almost 200 students, faculty, and staff, and observations of 19 College 101 classrooms across one community college system, found that College 101 improved students’ knowledge of college resources and success skills and were deemed useful by students and college personnel. However, the courses—which sought to address a broad range of topics in limited classroom hours—did not offer students strong opportunities to apply and practice important skills. Additionally, the courses were isolated from the colleges’ academic departments so that lessons were not reinforced in academic classes.

Previous CCRC research indicates that students who take College 101 courses in their first year accrue more college credits and are more likely to persist to a second year of college. Other research, however, suggests that these early positive results fade over time. The current study was designed to identify how student success courses might be improved to generate long-lasting impacts.

The study’s authors make a series of recommendations for how colleges can design more effective College 101 courses. These recommendations derive largely from the premise that students must have the opportunity to practice learned skills, and that, typically, student success courses cover too broad an array of topics to permit in-depth study and practice of the skills most relevant to college success.

To address this issue, the authors suggest that college faculty and staff work together to identify the most important non-academic skills students must master to succeed in college, and, based on these identified skills, develop a limited number of learning objectives that drive the pedagogy, curriculum, and assignments for College 101 courses. For instance, if becoming familiar with the transfer process is a key learning goal of the course, instructors should model filling out an application to a four-year college in their class, then assign students to complete their own application.

The authors point out that learning objectives should also drive staffing decisions for the courses. Academic faculty, who are familiar with the skills students need to do well in their courses—such as note-taking and library research—may be the most appropriate instructors for courses designed around these learning objectives. The experience teaching such courses would, additionally, make faculty more likely to reinforce and contextualize College 101 lessons in their academic classes.