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    Jan112012

    "Best Practices" in Student Support Services: A Study of Five Exemplary Sites

    This report from the U.S. Department of Education examined effective approaches to the delivery of services in the Student Support Services Program (SSS) of TRIO. SSS provides supplemental tutoring, counseling, remediation and other support services to disadvantaged college students. The goal of the program is to increase rates of college retention and graduation among disadvantaged students.

    The report was conducted for the U.S. Department of Education by Westat, Inc. The Follow-up Study builds on the work of the National Study of Student Support Services (SSS) -- a longitudinal study of students in SSS that began in 1991. The Follow-up Study had two parts -- (1) a study of five projects that demonstrated positive, statistically significant effects for SSS students during the first year of the National Study, and (2) a follow-up analysis of all students in the SSS longitudinal study in order to examine the retention and graduation rates of students six years after college entrance.

    The projects selected for inclusion in the Best Practices report were drawn from 30 projects in the National Study of Student Support Services (SSS). The five sites were selected because they showed positive, statistically significant individual effects on SSS participants' grade point averages (GPAs), year-to-year college retention, or both. The five sites in the "best practices" study range from a small, rural community college to one of the largest state universities in the nation. The sites include an historically black college and a small-town branch campus of a large public institution. The report is based on in-depth case studies of the five sites and describes some of the most important commonalities of practice across the sites as well as some of the most interesting dynamics of instructional and service approaches. [Click this link to download the report.]

    Commonalities Among Successful Projects:

    1.  A structured freshman-year experience for most or all participants. Four of the five projects structure the initial educational experience of the students they serve. These projects act as the main point of entry for the students to the institution, and in some cases they play a role in admissions. The projects provide academic advising and heavily influence course selection. They provide ongoing course instruction, supplemental instruction (SI), study groups, tutoring, and generally help students adjust to the institution.
    2. An emphasis on academic success. All of the projects focus on services that are designed to give students the academic skills and confidence that are necessary for success in college. The bulk of their service hours are devoted to helping students learn subject matter through activities such as supplemental instruction, course instruction, computer-assisted instructional laboratories, study groups, and/or tutoring.
    3. Extensive student service contacts. Without spending more money, the five case study projects see their participants more often than does the typical SSS project. They maintain frequent contact with students by offering services to groups of students simultaneously and by making efficient use of staff time. For example, project directors deal with the management and policy issues that require interaction with institutional officials; the rest of project staff can devote all of their time to working directly with students. Contact hours between staff and students are also increased by employing on a part-time basis professionals who work full-time at the college or in other TRIO programs.
    4. "Targeted" participant recruitment and participation incentives. Part of the reason that some projects have higher levels of participant contact hours is that students are simply more engaged -- they show up for services more often. Four of the five case study projects use selection procedures and participation incentives in order to motivate students. For example, two of the projects play a role in determining college admission for some or all of their participants. They use this role to test the motivation of prospective students/participants. They may require additional written essays on why the students want to attend, or they may require additional achievement or aptitude testing. In addition, two of the projects maintain tremendous control over the continued enrollment status of special admission students. In some cases, failure to attend project activities and appointments on a regular basis can lead to dismissal from the institution.
    5. Projects have devised incentives for participants to attend SSS activities. For example, one project offers employment opportunities for students to work as office assistants, mentors, or tutors in the institution's Upward Bound project. One project has also arranged internships and externships for participants with outside organizations.
    6. Dedicated staff and directors with strong institutional attachments. When asked why these five SSS projects are successful, most participants, faculty, and administrators cite staff capabilities. Although diverse along many dimensions, one common feature is that all five projects have directors who have worked in TRIO or similar programs at the same institution for many years. One director had been working in TRIO at her campus for over 26 years, and three others had been working in TRIO or similar programs at the institution for at least 16 years.

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