An A+ Way to Reach More Troubled Students During These Troubling Economic Times

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Penny Skaff

Penny Skaff has a long history with Saddleback College, as a student and the Associated Student Government President in 1987. After receiving her AA from Saddleback College, Skaff went on to earn a BA from Chico State and an MA in Counseling from Phillips Graduate School. Beginning in 1999, she served 5 years as Student Affairs Director at Saddleback College before splitting her time between her own two small children and her many students at Saddleback College. Go Gaucho!


Since the inception of formalized education there have been two lists, the “Dean’s List” and the “Academic Probation List.” At Saddleback College we are working hard at moving the latter group back on track. In these difficult economic times all community college campuses have to find creative and cost saving ways to serve their students. At Saddleback College, we are attempting to say, “No to the F!”


Saddleback College has created an “A+” way to reach our less-than-perfect academic students and do it for less during these challenging economic times. Each semester the number of students making the list (and we don’t mean Dean’s List but rather the Academic Probation List), has been increasing. We know there are numerous reasons why students are finding themselves in this not-so-popular club. Many students think they can select their classes completely on their own and disregard any recommendations to meet with an academic counselor; other students are just not ready to handle college level work and the freedom that comes along with it.
For years, Saddleback College has snail-mailed, emailed, and even phoned home to bring the less than perfect GPA student into Counseling, but since the fall of 2008, we have begun a college-wide “No-F” campaign! We have plastered our campus with the “Top 10 Excuses to be on Academic Probation” posters. We have captured the world’s most repetitive excuses for not doing well in school, from “Every night is Friday night” to “I forgot to drop my class.” Additional “No-F” campaign posters include: attractive looking real Saddleback College students with their real testimonials, sharing how they ended up on academic probation and what they have done to work their way off the LIST.
Former Academic Probation students who are demonstrating significant progress are hired to do actual outreach at high profile locations on our campus.
Wearing their “No-F” T-shirts, and stocked with dumb-dumb lollypops and helpful academic information, they staff the outreach table and get students’ attention peer-to-peer. Who wants to walk up to a 40-year old counselor lady and admit to failing grades in the quad? But peer-to-peer, “A, hey dude, I just failed the mid-term,” followed up with a comforting response of, “My grades sucked, too,” is the ticket!
The “NO-F” campaign has been a hit campus-wide with faculty and staff.  Late last spring, we even held a “D-Dog Barbeque” in our quad. While you did not have to show an unofficial failing transcript to receive your burnt dog, it was cool for all students to come up and get their free lunch from a dean or even the college president! While it’s challenging to get our staff and faculty to wear a name badge, it’s been no problem getting all of them to wear their black “No-F” shirts on the same day!
We feel confident that at Saddleback College we are bringing the less-than-perfect GPA out of the closet. Now that we have our students’ attention, we have incorporated Academic Probation workshops into our regularly scheduled counseling appointment times . A couple of times a week a counselor can be found conducting small group academic probation workshops. In the workshop much is covered: course repeatability, academic renewal, basic skills class information, and student services support resources.  Truly the most important outcome of the workshops is that the student learns he or she is not alone on the LIST.
During the Probation Workshop students quickly disclose their story.  Much like an AA meeting, they share and offer support to one another and begin talking about how they ended up with these deficient grades and what they are going to do to change. It’s amazing how many students don’t realize that their bad grades just don’t float away somewhere into cyberspace. It’s much like the inappropriate photos on MySpace; it’s not ever going away and it’s better to have not had it posted in the first place! But you live and learn, and that is the message and intent of this program. We want our students back on track and with no more F’s!
At the conclusion of each workshop, students are asked to complete a Class-Climate survey. A longitudinal study is being conducted to compare participating student’s GPA improvement versus those students who try to rectify their academic woes on their own. Students can also sign up for additional follow-up small group probation workshops or to receive a minimum of three electronic probation messages per semester. These messages are emailed out with simple reminders such as the last date to drop, friendly finals week reminders, and study tips. All messages are produced and collaborated with our probation student workers.
How was this project funded? It began with a $2,500 new project grant from our College Foundation and was followed up with a Basic Skills Initiative (BSI) grant. The actual cost cutting savings is this: in 90 minutes we can have significant contact with up to 15 students in jeopardy of dismissal, versus the two students a counselor could see. In no way do we suggest to our students that working individually with a counselor is not necessary, but for the initial probation counseling session, this small group academic probation workshop is the way to go!
To learn more about our No-F Campaign and our Academic Probation outreach program, please go to: