The Consortium on High Achievement and Success
On every college campus, there are courses that pose seemingly impenetrable challenges to students and, often, disproportionately to students of color. Usually the courses are entry-level natural science, math, or social science courses where the level of difficulty discourages students from taking further coursework in the discipline and in other ways drains their motivation. These challenging courses particularly affect students who, for a variety of reasons, question their abilities to succeed in a selective college environment.
The goal of the Barrier Course Project is to design academic support programs that emphasize both student retention and high achievement in non-remedial, peer-facilitated, interactive, and subject-specific ways. The project promotes enhanced achievement by targeting traditionally difficult courses, not "high-risk" students. The Consortium’s model integrates active learning strategies and content and focuses on the use of study groups for introductory courses, especially those identified as “barriers” to students who desire to major in particular disciplines.
Our model also emphasizes the role of faculty as "wise mentors" to all students. Thus, part of the project is devoted to teaching faculty how to avoid eliciting "stereotype threat" (i.e., anxiety and reduced performance that may ensue due to membership in a group associated with negative stereotypes about achievement) and thus how to create an atmosphere most conducive to high achievement and high motivation among all students.
Campuses overseeing the development of this project are Barnard, Union, Haverford, Holy Cross, and Trinity. A pilot project at Trinity College involving introductory chemistry has shown two semesters of strong success, with no student who participated in the peer-facilitated, supplemental sessions earning a grade less than a C and the average grade of participating students 0.6 points higher than that of nonparticipating students. The Consortium is sponsoring workshops at which administrators and faculty learn the techniques underlying the success of the pilot course and begin to conceptualize how to adapt the techniques for their own institutions and courses. Program participants also learn how to assess the program’s effectiveness.
Once the programs have been tested and refined for these disciplines, the involved faculty will serve as teachers and proponents of the methodology on other Consortium campuses, thus spreading the use of this technique and deliberately removing identified barriers to students’ success. When faculty and students are comfortable with the use of the techniques at the introductory level, we will seek implementation at higher course levels. In some cases, the technique may be expanded throughout a department’s curriculum. The end results of the Barrier Course Project will be increased retention, better preparation of faculty for their roles as teachers and motivators, enhanced campus atmosphere for learning and intellectual exploration, and increases in the numbers of students (and particularly students of color) who major, pursue advanced degrees, and choose careers in math and science.
Barnard College | Bates College |
Bryn Mawr College | Bucknell University |
Clark University |