College Transition Program Study Highlights Importance of Validation



Dr Adrianna Kezar, Dean’s Leadership Professor and Wilbur-Kieffer Professor of Higher Education at the University of Southern CaliforniaDr Dusten Crichton remembers sitting down as an undergraduate student at the University of Kansas with the director of financial aid to fill out a hard copy of the FAFSA. Crichton grew up as an orphan and court ward. Just realizing in this office that he could leave the line of the form that asked for his parents’ income blank made a difference.

“From that point on, every time I had to do the FAFSA it was the same,” Crichton said of his meeting with the manager. “He would sit with me and make sure I filled out the paperwork correctly to get as much help as possible. If you were to talk to the folks at TLC, you would find that they also had people like that.

Today, Crichton runs the Thompson Learning Community, or TLC, on the University of Nebraska at Omaha campus. The program supports low-income students, many of whom are first generation students and people of color.

In a six-year longitudinal study, researchers at the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California (USC) examined the Thompson Scholars Learning Community (TSLC) at the three University of Nebraska campuses to find this who worked and what didn’t in a comprehensive college transition program (CTP). Crichton’s program was one of those studied.

USC’s Pullias Center for Higher Education conducted the research and prepared seven reports on the findings as well as how other institutions might apply the learning. Researchers defined student achievement using measures such as academic self-efficacy and sense of belonging.

Findings include that proactive counseling enhances students’ academic self-efficacy and that student support requires services tailored to the complex individual needs of students. Additionally, researchers have found that being part of a comprehensive college bridging program can increase students’ sense of importance.

“We found that the students in our study were successful because they were able to create a meaningful and trusting relationship with another human being on campus,” said Dr. Adrianna Kezar, one of the lead authors of the Dean’s study and leadership professor and Wilbur-Kieffer Professor of Higher Education at USC. “And that person was able to connect them to a variety of mediums to help them build their confidence in ways that technology doesn’t. Much of what we found was more human than data. “

For Kezar, who is also director of the Pullias Center at USC, this constitutes a counter-narrative in trends in college support programs.

“We have come to rely too much on technology and data the solution in the student success movement to support students who traditionally have not done well in higher education, ”said Kezar. But the idea of ​​studying a “validation ecology” spoke to this alternative approach.

“Students in the program have had similar experiences regardless of who they are, whether they are Pell beneficiaries or the lower middle class, for example. It was a big surprise, ”said Dr Ron Hallett, one of the study researchers and professor of organizational leadership at the University of La Verne. “What are they doing that’s different? That’s when we noticed the ecological validation.

To explain what this validation ecology means, Kezar stressed the importance of not making students “feel stupid” for asking questions and assuming they understand how to navigate the world. bureaucratic complexities of higher education.

“We always approach support as a widget that we can add and then add this something else. We put in a pantry. And that’s okay to do, but it won’t solve the problem, ”Kezar said. “If I still don’t feel like I belong, then a pantry won’t be enough. Everyone is well intentioned, but they don’t always know what full support looks like.

The work of the research team is called the Promoting At-Promise Student Success (PASS) project. PASS used a mixed-methods approach, collecting qualitative data through interviews with TSLC students, staff, and faculty, as well as program documents and observations. Quantitative data came from surveys of students, both TSLC participants and students with similar backgrounds who were not at TSLC, as well as academic records.

For researchers, faculty and faculty in new ways, helps create effective programs.

“How do you make the pupils feel concerned? It has to do with creating a culture of care, which is tied to the way we train our staff and teachers, ”Kezar added. “How do we build the capacity of our faculty and staff to work differently with the unique needs of students? “

The upcoming study with PASS will further address these questions on University of Nebraska campuses.

“We found out in the first study that it’s not necessarily what you do, but how you do it. It really matters how we approach all of these different programs, ”said Dr. Zoe Corwin, a research professor at USC who is leading this second study with Halett. “Thus, our new research will delve deeper into the nuances of how students experience student life. We go beyond the TLC program to see how we bring this culture of ecological validation to the institutional level.

One aspect of the study will be managing professional learning communities, or opportunities for administrators and faculty to network between departments to better support students and learn from each other.

Thinking back to his time as a student, these networks were the key to Crichton’s success then.

“We never make them feel bad for not understanding how something works in the facility,” Crichton said. “A lot of it comes down to the relationships we build on both sides: relationships with students as well as partnerships on campus. Then we know we can pick up the phone or help a student email someone on financial aid to get the help they need.

Like many of his colleagues, Crichton sees his experiences as essential to meeting the needs of today’s students.

“The people who work in our office can all identify as the students we work with,” he said. “They were those students: low-income, first-generation students from under-represented backgrounds. We all feel like we’ve had those times when we couldn’t figure out how to navigate the institution. And we found people at the institution who could help us. This is why we are doing this work. Because we realize how important this is.

Rebecca Kelliher can be contacted at



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