Success in college requires more than mastering study skills

Coming to college for all new students, regardless of their academic preparedness,  is similar to arriving in a foreign country.  Students have to learn a new language, new customs, new expectations, roles, and rules, and they have to find out where and when  to learn about these things.  Below is a copy of  the full article  from Community College Research Center that identifies these particular skills and what learning them requires.







They Never Told Me What to Expect (CCRC)

It is not necessarily IQ

Recently, a new buzz word has surfaced regarding student success: grit.  Simply defined, grit is the thing that keeps you on track, helps you accomplish your goals, work through difficulties with your  nose to the grindstone. It’s the ability to stick with something until you’ve mastered it.  The research shows that it’s not necessarily the most gifted or talented or high IQ students who are the “grittiest”.  In fact, students who have the most innate talent are often the least gritty and that that when it comes to high achievement, grit may be as essential as intelligence.


Here is a link to a Ted Talk given by the psychologist who first started studying this somewhat enigmatic quality, Angela Duckworth

Angela Duckworth Talks about Grit



Community College FAQs

Some interesting facts from Community College Research Center about the number of students country-wide who place into developmental education, the number who complete  developmental courses, the cost of developmental education, as well as  the use of placement testing in developmental education.  I found that piece the most surprising.  Accuuplacer is one of the two placement tests used to place students into appropriate courses. The question is, ” how accurate is accuplacer”?  One CCRC study of a statewide community college system found that the ACCUPLACER severely misplaces 33 percent of entering community college students.

A much better predictor of success in courses comes from looking at high school transcripts.

Click on the link below to read  the CCRC findings in more detail.



Community College FAQs.

Matching Value and Expectation: The Key to Motivation

Last week in my college success class, we were talking about motivation.  I use Skip Downing’s On Course with this class and he defines motivation as being made up of value and expectation (M=V x E).  When I asked each student the percentage of value they place on getting an education, they all said 90-100%.  When they were asked about their expectations for success, the percentage dropped to 70-80.  So while all of them valued education most were less convinced that they would actually succeed.

This was a clear example that the value students place on their education isn’t enough.  They also need to believe they have the skills and abilities to be successful.  That’s the harder part especially for my students who have   dropped out of high school, received GEDs, and are coming to college with extreme academic and personal challenges.   It’s no wonder they don’t expect to succeed.


What can we do?  I believe that it’s critical to find ways for these students, and all students, to experience success no matter how big.  Students in my class have made it through almost the first half of the semester.  They’ve watched others drop out not because they didn’t have the ability, but because they didn’t stay long enough to actually experience success.  Some even sabotaged their chance of success by not handing in homework, not studying, etc.

For those students who are still here, they are seeing that their efforts are paying off.  They are handing in work, writing papers, taking small steps to get through a math quiz.  With each success, I can see them growing more self-confident, but I know it’s tenuous.

We, as teachers, must find a way to challenge our students while providing them the scaffolding to be successful.  It doesn’t mean handing out A’s.  It does mean giving them multiple opportunities to be evaluated and to show mastery.

In my next post, I’ll talk more about ways to help our students increase their expectaions for success so that it comes closer to the value they place on college.


The BCC Diamond Mine

This post  is from one of our GetREAL advisors, Mark Clatterbaugh.  It highlights one of our GetREAL students and shows that  we need not look further than our own backyard to find gems.  Thanks, Mark

The BCC Diamond Mine



Russell Conwell, the first President of my Alma Mater, Temple University, gave a lecture called “Acres of Diamonds” over 6,000 times around the world and it later became widely published due to its popularity.


The gist of the original lecture centers on the legend of a Persian farmer who sells his farm and travels the world hoping to find a diamond mine and his fortune. To make a long story short, after years of searching and much despair and futility the farmer in some versions of the lecture casts himself into the sea. Meanwhile a priest, the farmer encountered during his long journey returns to the farmer’s original home and the new owner has a shiny gem sitting on the mantle. The two go into the yard and explore in a small stream and discover many of the shiny rocks. The site becomes one of the largest diamond mines in the world.


I had heard snip-its’ of this story throughout my college days and upon retiring to the Berkshires, I spent some time taking in the full story. It has been for me an inspiration.


And, so, at BCC, I find myself mining diamonds in the GetREAL program. This program is designed to help get students off to a good start during their first year here. So imagine our delight when several of the faculty mentors stumbled upon a real diamond, when we were asked to help look over an English assignment for Samantha Lincoln. Samantha’s short essay about her grandmother entitled “Wait Until You Get a Load of This” bowled us over.  Our first reaction was to submit this to NPR and have them read it on Selected Shorts but that seemed a bit ambitious, so we forwarded the story to the Zine publication team.


Well Sam’s story was accepted and won the inaugural “Dr. Andrew Howitt Award For Best Humor”.  We continue to encourage Sam with her writing. We actually have found several other pieces that we think are of similar caliber. It is nice to see our mine producing gems.

A success story at BCC

Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Sara Cain, a young woman who came to BCC last fall through Project Link, a transitions program for students some of whom, like Sara, have earned a GED.

The transition  into BCC wasn’t easy for Sara.  There was a point where she almost left.  Thankfully, she turned things around and has worked hard to stay on track towards her goals.  Good luck, Sara.  I’m cheering you on!

Interview with Sara Cain

Student success courses catch on, slowly, at community colleges | Inside Higher Ed

College success courses continue to fight the legitimacy battle despite their proven track record of helping  students stay in college and graduate.

The arguments against success courses have remained the same over the last decade: they’re too expensive, they take away from other courses that students need to take in their program, students should come to college already knowing these skills.

If we are really interested in helping students persist and graduate, we need to look at what helps them and admit that success courses do this.  It’s time to stop putting these courses on trial.  They’ve already proven their worth.


Student success courses catch on, slowly, at community colleges | Inside Higher Ed.

Praise is Praise?

When it comes to motivation, not all praise is the same.


It makes sense to me that if I want to spark motivation in my students, giving them feedback, as long as it’s positive, will help them feel motivated.  After all, praise is praise right? Maybe not.   Yesterday I listened to an excellent eSeminar, “The Science of Motivating Students for Success,” Christine Harrington, author of Student Success in College: Doing What Works!, To access the seminar go to:


One of the points she made related to the nature of praise and how different kinds of praise inspire more motivation than others.  For example, telling a student “You did a great job on this.  You’re clearly very bright.” vs. “You did a great job on this.  You clearly worked hard.” Results in differing levels of motivation for these students to persist, succeed, etc. 


Why might this be so?  The answer lies in the interplay between how a person explains his success and the type of feedback we give him.  Telling a student that she must be really smart gives her the message that the reason she did well was because of something internal to her but also something that is pretty fixed. Intelligence or ability is usually seen as unchangeable.  If, on the other hand, telling same student that she worked really hard gives her message that it’s still something internal, but it isn’t fixed.   If she keeps putting effort in, she will do well. Effort is changeable.  We can always choose to try harder.  Continue reading