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Should ‘success class’ be required?

California may require low-skilled community college students to take a “success course” that teaches study skills and “college knowledge” reports EdSource Extra. The California Community College’s Student Success Task Force recommended non-credit student success courses as a strategy to improve graduation rates, but didn’t specify whether the classes should be recommended or required.

Many community colleges already offer success courses in various forms.

For at least 25 years, student success courses were offered at City College of San Francisco as a one-unit, not-for-credit course, said Nadine Rosenthal, the director of City College’s Learning Assistance Center.

It has since expanded to a three-unit course taken by some 800 students that can be used for transfer to a UC or CSU campus. It consists of three segments: one focused on personal growth and learning styles; another on study strategies and test-taking skills, and another on critical and creative thinking. An average of 40 students are enrolled in 22 course sections.

Rosenthal said surveys showed that students found the “time management” and “goal setting” portions of the class most valuable, followed by techniques for memorizing and concentrating on course materials.

But she opposed making it a required course for students who are shown to be lagging on a placement test. She said it would be “logistically challenging” as well as extremely costly to offer as many as 100 course sections without a major increase in staffing — an unlikely prospect during this period of extreme cuts to the community colleges’ budget.

Colleges are expanding student success courses to reach more students without hiring more counselors, said Bob Gabriner, a task force member and director of the Education Leadership Program at San Francisco State.

Combining classes with support services can reach students who’d never seek out a counselor, concludes a MDRC report on several approaches.

At Chaffey College in California, a voluntary success course for students on academic probation had no effect, MDRC found. Redesigned as a two-semester, mandatory program, it showed “large and significant” results. “Almost twice as many students in the program group as in the control group got off probation and returned to good academic standing.”

In Florida, community college students who’d taken “student life skills” classes were more likely to earn a credential, a 2006 study found.