Incorporating a Student Skills Development Program

The current approach to student remediation in most PA programs follows a recurring pattern:

  1. PA students are admitted to PA program

  2. Some PA students begin struggling academically

  3. Students are provided remediation (i.e., retake a test)

  4. Repeat steps 2-3, hope for student success

Is there another approach we can take to truly enhance the success of our students? Let’s examine and define an alternative strategy that has been proven through many years of practice: a student skills development program. Once incorporated, this program will increase the probability of your students thriving academically and successfully graduating.

The student skills development program begins with the admissions process: perhaps your PA program wants to admit students who don’t quite “fit the mold”—they have a lower GPA, a history of academic difficulty, or a spotty academic record. Or your program wants to admit a student who meets the program’s mission or is racially diverse or comes from a lower social economic geographic area. If these students appear to be at risk before ever admitting them, what can your program do?

Following the student skills development program, in order to increase inclusion and diversity to encompass students from all backgrounds a PA program will incorporate a prematriculation program. The prematriculation program involves a focus on basic science modules for students to complete prior to matriculation, as well as incorporate skills development for studying, time management, and more in order to enhance success.

This alternative program means pivoting into a new mindset focused on truly developing students’ skills—before they struggle. This means including as much as twelve hours of student study skills during the first several weeks of the program. Though it may often be assumed graduate students have already mastered these skills, this is not always the case. Again, the student skills development program concentrates on areas such as time management skills, high impact study skills, test-taking skills, and ameliorating stress. This is the time to incorporate stress and burnout preventative modules to enhance students’ adjustment into the program.

Faculty members must be able to help students build their metacognitive skills, that is, the students’ ability to understand their own limitations. Though not all faculty will serve as student success coaches, faculty development is essential to ensure everyone understands how student skills development can be incorporated into student counseling and advisement throughout the program. Further, faculty development is an opportunity to ensure faculty follow a standardized approach to this remediation program. This development process builds protocols that will ensure all students are provided the same support and recommendations as they proceed to the program.

Next, we must look at the remediation process itself. Each individual program must reflect on whether the remediation process itself is working. Have you applied parametric analysis to student outcomes after they experienced remediation on multiple occasions? If students statistically are not performing as well as their peers, consider whether the process is effective.

Another facet of this process involves developing a risk modeling program. Risk modeling is based on analysis of variables such as PACKRAT, EORE, and SUMMATIVE exams and requires examining specific score stratifications. Using multivariable analysis, PA programs can determine the most predictive elements for future success, enabling them to identify students potentially at risk early in the process. Students who perform below a specific benchmark can be placed on academic improvement plan (AIP), triggering the student success coaching process. This is not meant to be punitive; rather, students are given appropriate support to reinforce skill development and provided with an accountability coach. This approach has been shown to have a positive effect on student outcomes. In chapter 5 of our book “learning to love data “ the risk modeling process is discussed in great detail. Please review this chapter to provide recommendations how to incorporate a risk modeling process in your program.

We discuss the risk modeling process in greater detail in Learning to Love Data.

Academic success is your ultimate goal. When incorporated properly, the vast majority of your students can and will be successful. Fortunately, a student skills development program doesn’t require a large amount of additional faculty time. However, it will require a highly logistic, strategic approach. This process is not about failure, it’s about success.

© 2021 by Massey & Martin, LLC

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