When Walters State freshmen started their college careers this week, 25 had a very valuable head start: the intensive three-week Learning Support Academy held in June.
The Learning Support Academy combines academic courses with activities that acquaint students with the college experience. This was the second year for the academy, funded by the college and by a Tennessee Board of Regents Access and Diversity Grant. In addition to preparing students for success, the pilot program measures the effectiveness of several retention practices, with the overall goal of identifying ways to help students complete a degree or certificate.
The performance of academy students so far predicts a bright future. All enrolled students completed the summer session. Even more impressive, 87 percent of last year’s academy graduates are still enrolled.
“The Learning Support Academy introduces students to college life and makes sure each one is prepared for fall semester. Students may be the first generation in their family to attend college. By bringing them on campus early, they have a chance to adjust before classes start,” explained Connie Earls, director of retention services at Walters State.
The academy focused on intensive courses in math, reading and writing. Many students were able to raise their scores on the COMPASS exam, a placement test. By scoring better, students were then ready for college level courses, saving both time and money that would have been spent on learning support (or developmental) courses.
After the summer session, each student is paired with a mentor that works in the Student Affairs office. Mentors meet with students one-on-one regularly and are also available when students have problems, face obstacles that could interfere with the completion of a degree or certificate, or just need to talk. First-year graduates of the Learning Support Academy rated the mentorship as one of the most important aspects of the program.
Earls said one of the best benefits of the Learning Support Academy wasn’t really planned.
“The 25 students were from throughout our service area. Many did not know anyone in the class. By the end of the session, everyone had become friends. Now, they have a ready-made support group as they enter college,” Earls said.
In the photo: Holly Tew,a Walters State Community College freshman and graduate of the 2014 Summer Learning Academy, discusses her schedule with Connie Earls, director of retention services at the college.