or mentors transform the lives of students. Countless times
in my career I’ve seen that students need someone to believe
in them, whether it is a professor, coach, or student advisor.
Developing that one-on-one connection is the necessary prerequisite to providing effective support and building students’
sense of social and academic integration with their postsecondary institution. Yet, I would add that caring is not enough.
What we need is Caring Plus. In student affairs, the ultimate
formula for student retention is not just building a sense
of connection, but rather providing that one-on-one care, plus
well-tailored, evidence-based, active support. Figuring out
how to make that one-on-one connection is a lesson
that higher education could learn from the private sector,
where customer response management uses a set of sophisticated 21st century tools that literally change the customer
response based on behavioral data systems that learn from
Consider for a moment the stubborn problem of bolstering
retention among freshmen in developmental education classes.
It is well established that most students who drop out of col-
lege do so before their second year, and that students placed in
developmental education classes upon their arrival are at great
risk for dropping out. As college access and community col-
leges have expanded, so, too, has the number of students who
arrive at college unprepared to do college-level work. Nearly
60 percent of community college students today take at least
thousands of dedicated counselors and professors carrying
out a crucial community college function. At the same time,
however, the system is characterized by uncertainty; a lack of
consensus on either the definition of being college ready or
the best strategies to pursue; high costs; and varied and often
Promising Programs and Interventions
In developmental education, as in other arenas of student
services, evidence and outcomes must matter. Fortunately,
researchers and practitioners are now beginning to demonstrate several promising programs and interventions to boost
retention, student engagement, and academic achievement.
Perhaps the best known programs are learning communities, which Vincent Tinto helped to pioneer along with the
Washington Center for Undergraduate Education at Evergreen
State College. Learning communities bring together small
groups of college students who take two or more linked
courses together, usually as a cohort. More than 500 campuses now have learning communities, which utilize a variety
of integrated supports, including supplemental instruction
with peer tutoring, tutoring labs, cluster teams of faculty
and counselors or advising staff, case managers, upper-class
peer mentors, and summer bridge programs. The quality of
learning communities can vary from classroom to classroom,
but they typically provide both explicit opportunities through
In student affairs the ultimate formula for student
retention is not just building a sense of connection,
but rather providing that one-on-one care, plus
well-tailored, evidence-based, active support.
one developmental education course. By some estimates, less
than a quarter of students in remedial courses complete a
degree or certificate within eight years of enrollment. Four-year colleges and universities often eliminate college prep or
developmental courses from the curriculum, but have you
ever asked a recent four-year graduate to write an essay?
The inevitable consequence of the explosion in develop-
mental instruction is that the freshmen year, and especially the
first semester, has become the critical window of opportunity
during which student affairs professionals can assist students.
Yet, as Thomas Bailey has noted, there is “no strong consen-
sus about how to carry out developmental education most
effectively.” We have learned that caring, in and of itself, is
not enough. “The broad picture of developmental education,”
Bailey summarizes, “shows an extensive system that involves
assignments and class discussions to integrate learning across
courses and build connections to out-of-class experiences.
Many students report that their fellow students and advisors
become almost like a second “family” or their “college family”
away from home.