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Institutional Planning for Student Success at Sinclair Community College

Want to Improve Student Success?

We did. Sinclair Community College is a college of approximately 23,000 students, located in Dayton, Ohio, serving a predominantly urban population. As with many urban colleges, we have a large population of at-risk students who need a very personalized approach to enrolling in, and being successful in, the college experience.

Although, we have previously tried a myriad of approaches to improving retention, we eventually recognized that we were treating the symptom instead of the disease. Retention wasn’t really our goal, student success was the goal. So, we decided to focus our energies on making students successful – from the first day of class onward – and let retention take care of itself. If we helped students be successful in clarifying their goals and objectives and helped them get off to a great first and second term start, we believed that improved retention would just be a natural result. After one pilot year and one full year of concentrating on success instead of retention, we have found that we are indeed on the right track to make students more successful.


Sinclair Community College has extensively researched various models to improve students’ persistence rates, goal attainment, and success. This research and support from college-wide constituencies led the executive leadership to initiate the abolishment of late registration. Dr. Steven Lee Johnson, President, was instrumental in leading the college paradigm shift emphasizing not only access, but also student success. Successful implementation in 2002-03 generated examination of other policies and processes, including review of standards of academic progress, new student and distance learning course enrollment policies, and earlier deadlines for Financial Aid. This laid the foundation for the development of the Student Success Plan, a comprehensive student success model to increase at-risk student persistence, success, retention, and graduation rates. It includes the Individual Learning Plan (ILP) as part of a holistic counseling and intervention system. Through counseling and web-based support systems, students who are at greatest risk of failing in college are identified, supported and monitored.

The Student Success Plan and Individual Learning Plan (ILP) resulted from a thorough literature search, discussions with experts, and benchmarking best practices internally and with other institutions of higher education. Based on this research, Student Success Services administrators and counselors developed and piloted a practical, comprehensive approach designed to ensure that at-risk students were clear about their goals, were integrated into the social and academic communities of the college, and were guided and supported in their learning.

The goal of this project is not only to increase participating student success, but also to impact significantly college-wide performance and student success measures by helping large numbers of the at-risk population. Sinclair Community College just completed the first full year of operation for the ILP program with evidence of significant success for students.


At-risk students who participate in the Student Success Plan process have a customized, documented action plan and support system to guide their educational experience. New first-time degree or certificate seeking students are screened immediately after placement testing based on institutionally-verified risk criteria and assigned to a Student Success Services counselor. The ILP counselor assesses the students in a systematic, multidimensional manner. The assessmnet includes: academic background, learning preferences and needs, family size and composition, financial needs, current employment status, etc. The goal of the counselor is to first understand both the student and their life situation as much as possible. The counselor then assists the student with understanding their Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and Learning and Study Skills Inventory (LASSI) assessment results, choosing a college major or career goal, developing a plan to pay for educational expenses, identifying resources and services that will be beneficial, reviewing strategies to improve learning and study skills, and registering for classes.

Currently enrolled, continuing at-risk students may also be referred by academic counselors, faculty or self-referred for various causes, including through the Developmental Studies Early Alert Project, to a similar program entitled the Counseling Action Plan (CAP).. These students are offered the same holistic counseling and intervention services of the Student Success Plan, including standardized assessments, action planning, referral to appropriate internal and external resources and assistance with educational, personal or career development issues as the new students receiving an ILP.

The goal for both ILP and CAP students is to provide structured support based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, so that student’s physiological needs (shelter, food, child care, transportation, etc.) are met before they begin classes as well as during their college experience.


Research was completed after fall quarter 2003 on the success of the new degree and certificate seeking students served by the initial quarter of the ILP process. The research design indicated that t here was a statistically significant difference favoring the ILP group over similar at-risk students not receiving this intervention as well as non-at-risk students in terms of success measures, including the number of classes attempted compared to the number of classes completed and the percent of classes that are completed with an A, B, C, or P. Winter and spring (2003-2004) quarter results indicated ILP students exceeded the average of 64% first to second-term retention rate of all new degree and certificate seeking students.

Summary of Findings :

  • At-risk students who participate in the ILP consistently have higher retention rates than first-time degree-seeking students in general. This was true of fall 2003 to winter, 2004 (77.4%) and winter to spring, 2004 (77.8%). For all first-time degree and certificate seeking students, the fall to winter retention averaged 73% and the winter to spring was 66.1%.
  • ILP students who have multiple risk factors generally compare favorably to the average of all new degree seeking students in terms of grade point average (2.0 or better) and successful completion of courses. For fall, 2003, ILP students average grade point average was 2.66, with 75.8% of classes completed successfully. For all first-time degree and certificate seeking students, the average Fall GPA was 2.51 and 71.2% of classes were successfully completed. For winter and spring quarters, GPA and percentage of classes successfully completed were statistically equivalent for the at-risk ILP students to the non-at risk students.
  • The ILP counseling process seems to be mitigating or alleviating the barriers to educational persistence and success. The intent of the comprehensive services is to assist at-risk students in competing favorably with the non-at risk students, thereby improving the “averages” of performance indicators for the college.

This past fiscal year, approximately 2,000 new and current at-risk students were served through the Student Success Plan and we estimate that we will serve more than three thousand per year more in coming years. On student satisfaction surveys, a pproximately 95% of the respondents found the ILP to be valuable in terms of information received on improving study strategies and skills, understanding of learning preferences as well as academic strengths and weaknesses, and in overcoming obstacles and concerns in starting classes.

In both 2003 and 2004, Sinclair Community College was recognized in the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) National Report, Engagement by Design, for demonstration of outstanding performance on the benchmark of “Support for Learners.” The goal of the Student Success Plan is not only to increase student success of the participants, but also impact significantly college-wide performance measures.

Another valuable component of the Student Success Plan is the web-based counseling record management, reference and reporting system used by Student Success Services counselors, developed in collaboration with Technology Services with U.S. Department of Education Title III grant funds. The Student Success Plan website won the Educause Excellence in Information Technology Solutions national award for 2004.

Hank Dunn, Vice President for Student Services,
Anna Mays, Director, Student Success Services ,

Author: Hank Dunn & Anna Mays

23 January 2005

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