Barriers to attaining a college degree are complex and varied. Traditionally, situational and institutional barriers are considered the largest obstacles to earning that coveted degree. Potential students, who work odd hours, have child care issues, or live large distances from campus can break down these types of situational barriers by attending courses online. It is up to higher education professionals to rectify the attrition issue to help these adults, not only for their sakes, but for the sake of the future economic stability and global competitiveness of this nation.
Higher education institutions need to take a closer look at their unique student demographic. It is not simply enough to be ‘student-centered’. Instead, colleges must be adult-centered, military-centered, learning style-centered, transition-centered, technology-centered, and more to meet the needs of their learners. A diverse student population needs services cohesively and strategically meshed together so that these support services provide a greater net strength once they are intertwined rather than as separate unrelated parts.
To address this, Grantham University has employed a scaffolded, comprehensive approach to providing expanded student access and support that leads to student success and retention. Swaddled Support Services (SSS) is heavily based in Adult Transition theory (Schlossberg, 1981) and equates any human transition with the first transition in life: womb to world – a journey that can be traumatic and filled with uncertainty.
Upon arrival in the new world, the environment is a shocking difference from the comfort zone of origin. This is why for thousands of years infants have been swaddled to facilitate a healthy transition into the new environment from warm, familiar, comfortable womb to a new, cold, and sterile world.
Just as swaddling an infant during this time of transition brings comfort, research shows that external barriers can be mitigated for the adult learner population if there is an interwoven set of personalized, institutional programs in place to provide a solid support network that is necessary to the student experience.
Over fifty years of retention research warns that attrition cannot be solved with a one-size-fits-all panacean program (Tinto, 1975; 1987; 1993). Many experts have concluded that a confluence of multiple theories may be the most appropriate way to look at student persistence because there is characteristically an interaction between external factors (environmental, situational, or institutional) and internal psychological learner characteristics which causes the dropout or persistence decision (Park 2007; Park & Choi, 2007).
Grantham University’s SSS model incorporates a confluence of theories to include Student Integration Theory, Schemata Theory, Theory of Self-Actualization, Adult Transition Theory, Asset vs. Deficit Theory, Andragogy, and Cognitive Load Theory. Developed by Dr. Cheryl Hayek, the model originated from a promising study of online military learner retention (Hayek, 2011). The study concluded with a clear indication that harsh external barriers can be mitigated for this population if there are an interwoven set of institutional support levels in place which replaces generic assistance. The SSS model is a comprehensive framework of support found within all levels of the university and includes: orientation, faculty, advisors, academic support staff, and student training integrated holistically into the early stages of college entry.
Research shows that support must be integral to the student experience, not added-on programing that are appendages to the students’ experience. Through SSS, the learner’s services are swaddled, creating a safety net of support. Swaddling reduces what doctors call the ‘startle effect’, limits stimulus overload, and envelops the person in a warm flexible supportive environment to offset what may appear to be a cold and threatening new environment. For those who may not quite be ready for online education, swaddling addresses readiness assessments and scaffolded learning approaches. Cognitive load theory is taken into account to eliminate the startle effect that new learners often feel when attempting an online course.
Incorporating a SSS model is not about buying new technology or expensive software. It is about repurposing existing student resources and strategically placing them in locations that give learners 360 degree support, swaddled around them academically, emotionally, and psychologically. Education is not simply an academic endeavor. SSS recognizes that it is an entire human experience and should be addressed as such in program development.
The implementation of Swaddled Support Services at Grantham University has resulted in:
• An increase in the rate of student persistence
• Happier, more satisfied students
• A decrease in the percentage of students who are at-risk academically
Learning Effectiveness: The SSS model creates a learning environment that is tailored to the student and designed to ensure that the student not only succeeds academically, but has a high-quality educational experience. This is accomplished through increasing student persistence and retention, mitigating the risk of drops and enveloping the student with the support services necessary to his or her success.
Student Satisfaction: Successful students are satisfied students. SSS’s comprehensive framework of support provides the adult learner with the tools needed to succeed in an online learning environment. From an easily accessible learning environment to faculty who are visible, immediate, personal and proactive in the classroom to a learning center that provides student success strategies, one-on-one tutoring and writing and math labs, students have access to a wide-variety of services, all designed to enhance their student experience and success in the classroom. Many of these services are available 24 hours per day, seven days per week for a true 360 degree support system, swaddling the learner in resources when she/he needs them.
The equipment required to develop Swaddled Support Services for any college or university is basic. It requires people and training. This reality is the quintessential component of student success and human development: People need people to succeed in life. There is no magic pill or one single piece of technology that does this. Institutions of higher learning simply need to position resources in the best interest of its students.
The cost of developing a SSS model depends on the institution’s investment. It can cost nothing if the institution chooses to alter the way it approaches students and repurposes the resources that already exist. If an institution does not have the right tools and resources to support its student body, cost to develop those will come in to play and is dependent on the program developed.
Hayek, C. (2011). A Nonexperimental Study Examining Online Military Learner Satisfaction and Retention. ERIC: ED533243.
Park, J. (2007). Factors related to learner dropout in online learning. In Nafukho, F. M., Chermack, T. H., & Graham, C. M. (Eds.) Proceedings of the 2007 Academy of Human Resource Development Annual Conference (pp. 25-1-25-8). Indianapolis, IN:AHRD.
Park, J., & Choi, H. (2007). Differences in personal characteristics, family and organizational supports, and learner satisfaction between dropouts and persistent learners of online programs. In G. Richards (Ed.), Proceedings of World Conference on ELearning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2007 (pp. 6444-6450). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.
Schlossberg, N.K. (1981). A model for analyzing human adaptation. The Counseling Psychologist. Vol. 9(2), 2-18. Sage publications.
Tinto, V. (1975). Dropout from Higher Education: A Theoretical Synthesis of Recent Research. Review of Educational Research, 45(1), 89-125. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Tinto, V. (1987). Leaving College: Rethinking the Causes and Cures of Student Attrition. (First ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Tinto, V. (1993). Taking student learning seriously. Retrieved from http://faculty.soe.syr.edu/vtinto/Files/Pullias%202003%20Lecture.pdf
Tinto, V. (1993). Leaving College: Rethinking the Causes and Cures of Student Attrition. (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.