Delta College: Advancing Student Success, Retention, and Completion Through Learning Support Services
Postsecondary institutions have long recognized the importance of student success and retention, with many colleges and universities explicitly emphasizing these goals in their strategic plans (Darabi & Garland, 2018). Throughout the United States, campus learning centers, which the National College Learning Center Association defines as “interactive academic spaces which exist to reinforce and extend student learning in physical and/or virtual environments” (as cited in Darabi & Garland, 2018, p. 4), regularly contribute to success and retention efforts. Delta College, which serves Michigan’s Great Lakes Bay Region, identifies student success as one of its four strategic focus areas. With an estimated 7,000+ students enrolled, the college has integrated its learning support services in the last five years to maximize the effectiveness of the Teaching and Learning Center (TLC); Writing, Reading, and Information Technology (WRIT) Center; and Testing Center. All three areas report to a single administrator and are centrally located at the heart of Delta’s main campus.
Building Capacity for Comprehensive Learning Support
Although Delta College’s learning support areas each boasted of long, reputable histories that highlighted professional recognitions, certifications, and awards, they traditionally operated quite independently of each other, with most service offerings having remained unchanged since their inceptions. Through information-gathering processes that included faculty and staff feedback, student interviews, SWOT analyses, and a thorough examination of the institution’s most recent strategic plan, the TLC, WRIT Center, and Testing Center eagerly connected their purposes to further the college’s mission, vision, and values, and supporting its strategic initiatives. To create a culture of ongoing assessment and improvement, learning support staff continuously expand their knowledge of professional standards and best practices in their respective fields. Moreover, annual performance appraisals ensure that each employee’s individual action plan and professional development goals align with institutional priorities as well.
Aside from information gathering and professional development, an integration of learning support services required the implementation of a new scheduling, tracking, and data information system that tied into the student information system and aligned with the departments’ processes and procedures. Researching, selecting, purchasing, and implementing Redrock’s TracCloud system has been integral to advancing the departments’ missions, goals, and outcomes, particularly in ensuring their ability to develop and carry out assessment plans.
Danielle Petersen, Teaching and Learning Center and Testing Center Manager,
at 2022 LPN pinning ceremony with nursing graduate Mary Yates
Comprehensive Learning Support Services
To meet a diverse range of needs and maximize opportunities for students, Delta College’s learning support services offer comprehensive programming to enhance student success, retention, and completion. Some of the most utilized services include the following:
To address students’ noncognitive needs (i.e., academic self-confidence, attitudes/beliefs, anxiety, metacognitive learning, study strategies, mindset, self-regulation skills, test-taking skills, etc.), the TLC began offering academic coaching services by appointment in 2019. Before scheduling individual consultations, students complete an intake form designed to help them prioritize their academic concerns, reflect on their learning habits, and identify their strengths and areas for growth. By sharing these insights, students help consultants prepare for a customized session that addresses their specific needs. When students meet with a consultant, they can also share additional information, discuss research-based strategies contributing to academic success, and commit to implementing an individual success plan. Students may also choose to schedule future coaching appointments for specific topics, such as managing time and priorities, organizing lecture notes, preparing for tests, or tackling exam questions. Consultants later reach out to check on students’ progress, including successes and challenges in implementing the strategies discussed.
The most utilized learning support service is content-area tutoring, particularly in math and science disciplines. While consultants support the top 10 programs and courses, only one-third of student visits are from courses in those areas. One of the greatest challenges is normalizing tutoring services for students and destigmatizing requests for help. In addition to in-person or online tutoring sessions, students may receive asynchronous content assistance by submitting questions to CyberTutor—an internal software application that links with the student information system—and receiving professional guidance from a consultant in response to their inquiries.
Facilitated Study Groups
Facilitated study groups (FSGs) target historically difficult courses and connect students taking the same course. Students who participate in FSGs engage in collaborative learning activities, problem-solving interactions, and exam review sessions. Consultants model disciplinary thinking, pose challenging questions, and integrate content-based approaches to learning and studying the material effectively. Both instructors and students can request a facilitated study group for their course if one does not already exist.
Presentation and Writing Assistance
Throughout their educational experiences, students encounter a number of authentic assessments that require them to demonstrate their learning. Consultants at the WRIT Center offer presentation and writing assistance for assignments across disciplines; they can support students at any stage of the writing process for any genre—from understanding assignment guidelines to gathering research and responding to final drafts to practicing their presentation deliveries.
Student Development Specialist Laura Schmidt tutors nursing student Aysia Weston in math
Strong reading skills are imperative for students to understand important concepts discussed in their textbooks and supplementary course materials. To access this content, students must be able to accurately identify main ideas, recognize supporting details, understand disciplinary vocabulary, and make appropriate inferences. While most classes assign textbooks as the primary source of content/information, students need to familiarize themselves with a wide variety of genres, including peer-reviewed journal articles and other discipline-specific resources. WRIT consultants help students develop reading strategies that will increase their efficiency and comprehension.
In addition to learning support, the TLC and WRIT Center offer on-campus student employment opportunities for individuals interested in developing professional skills that will make them competitive in the workforce. From tutoring other students to facilitating study groups, several positions exist for students to gain training as well as work and mentoring experience that will contribute to their success and retention.
Test Administration Services
The Testing Center administers individual makeup exams, accommodative tests for students with disabilities, credit-by-exam, and a number of business and industry certification assessments.
Learning support workshops are available for students in content areas and for learning and study strategies. Some of the most popular workshops include math for health occupations, APA and MLA citation styles, NCLEX test-taking strategies, and overcoming test anxiety for dental hygiene students preparing to take their board exams.
Future Aspirations and Concluding Thoughts
Aside from supporting student success, retention, and completion, learning centers are well positioned within their respective institutions to advance higher education’s most recent commitments to student belonging, equity, and inclusion. While comprehensive programming and centralized campus locations are instrumental to this endeavor, learning centers have always concerned themselves with the whole student, priding themselves on meeting students where they are and assisting them to get where they need to be. To that end, learning centers’ most valuable resources—their competent, dedicated, and empathetic staff—are primed to create a welcoming, inclusive environment and normalize engagement in academic support to succeed in college-level classes. Indeed, learning centers may never have been more integral to their campuses than they are today. Committed to reducing opportunity gaps for our Black, Native American, and Hispanic students, Delta College is prioritizing student belonging, equity, and completion in its strategic plan for 2024-2029, and the learning support services at Delta College are looking forward to contributing to equity for our previously underserved student populations.
Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (2019). CAS professional standards in higher education (10th ed.).
Darabi, R. L., & Garland, D.K. (2018). Introduction: Strategic development of a learning center. In E. M. Bentram & G. W. Henning (Eds.), The impact of a sense of belonging in college: Implications for student persistence, retention, and success (pp. 3-17). Stylus Publishing.
McNair, T. B., Bensimon, E. M., & Malcolm-Piquex, L. (2020). From equity talk to equity walk: Expanding practitioner knowledge for racial justice in higher education. Jossey-Bass.
Nilson, L. B. (2013). Creating self-regulated learners: Strategies to strengthen students’ self-awareness and learning skills. Stylus Publishing.
Verschelden, C. (2017). Bandwidth recovery: Helping students reclaim cognitive resources lost to poverty, racism, and social marginalization. Stylus Publishing.
Lead image: Learning Consultant Josh Zieroff tutors Calculus I student Brianna Goretski
Danielle Petersen is Manager, Teaching and Learning Center and Testing Center, at Delta College in University Center, Michigan.
Opinions expressed in Member Spotlight are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.