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Research Finds 'College 101' Courses Need Improvement

Most colleges now offer some introductory student success or "College 101" course designed to help ease the transition into higher education. New research shows students benefit from those efforts, but the impact is not long-lasting.

The study by the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, includes interviews with 169 students, faculty, and staff, and observations of College 101 courses in 19 classrooms at three community colleges in Virginia. Researchers found students in the courses did improve their skills and knowledge of college resources. However, there wasn't enough time in class for students to apply and practice the new skills. (The classes evaluated in the study were one credit and met just once a week.) And the courses were separate from the academic departments on campus so the lessons were not reinforced in other classes.

The authors concluded the courses were too broad and would be more effective focusing on fewer topics in more depth, with input from college faculty and staff. They recommend academic faculty be brought in as instructors in these success classes and weave in some of the skills into their regular courses. The study also suggests that the design of the class be more interactive and include activities requiring students to demonstrate they've grasped the concept.

According to a 2009 survey of more than 1,000 institutions, 87 percent of participating colleges offered a first-year seminar (College 101 course). Another study found that in the 2009-10 academic year, nearly half of first-year college students took a course intended to orient them to college life or college academics, the CCRC study notes.

Earlier this year, CCRC released a related study that showed even many students considered college ready by passing their placement tests or completing developmental coursework still did not earn a credential. Researchers concluded that success was dependent not just on academic preparation, but other skills, attitudes, and behaviors as well.

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