Deciding who needs a Student Skills Development Program

scott's thoughts Jul 26, 2022

In our last blog, we introduced the concept of the Student Skills Development Program. In effect, this is your Pharmacy program’s chance to jump in ahead of academic difficulties that some of your students may encounter during their didactic year. Once incorporated, such a program will increase the probability of your students thriving academically and successfully graduating.

A Student Skills Development Program begins with the admissions process. Perhaps your Pharmacy program wants to admit students who don’t quite “fit the mold.” They may have a lower GPA, a history of academic difficulty, or a spotty academic record. Perhaps your program wants to admit a student who meets the program’s mission, is racially diverse, or comes from a lower social-economic geographic area. If these students appear to be at risk before ever admitting them, what can your program do?

Increasing inclusion and diversity to encompass students from all backgrounds requires a Pharmacy program to take an active role in supporting academic success. Students come to us from a variety of backgrounds and not all playing fields are level when it comes to teaching them how to learn, study, or test successfully. Our goal is to give a chance to motivated, promising students by leveling that field as much as possible before the cohort begins.

For the sake of clarity, we are talking about referring at-risk students to class or an online module that is designed to cover “missing” skills and knowledge. Such modules are often offered by third parties specializing in educational development, thus your program would not be required to arrange for additional classes or instruction at that particular stage. At-risk students would be invited, possibly even required, to successfully pass the class or module prior to matriculation. For approximately twelve weeks prior to the beginning of their cohort, student participants would be instructed in:

  1. Basic/review science modules, if necessary
  2. High-level study skills
  3. Time management for graduate-level studies
  4. Test-taking techniques
  5. Note-taking techniques
  6. Stress management
  7. Avoiding “study” burnout

But who among your students needs such a program? If we want to “head problems off,” we in fact need to assess chances of difficulty before matriculation ever begins. It is as unfair to assume that a student from a lower socioeconomic geographic area will invariably struggle as it is to assume that a traditional student with a high GPA will transition flawlessly into graduate studies. The question then becomes one of discriminating who among your invited cohort are at risk of struggling academically.

This process involves developing a risk modeling program. Risk modeling is based on analysis of variables such as PACKRAT, EORE, and SUMMATIVE exams and requires examining specific score stratifications. Using multivariable analysis, Pharmacy programs can determine the most predictive elements for future success, enabling them to identify students potentially at risk early in the process. (For an in-depth discussion of the risk modeling process, we invite you to refer to Chapter 5 of our book, Learning to Love Data.)

Students who perform below a specific benchmark can be placed on an Academic Improvement Plan (AIP), triggering the Student Success Coaching process. This is not meant to be punitive; rather, students are given appropriate support to reinforce skill development and provided with an accountability coach. This approach has been shown to have a positive effect on student outcomes.

Academic success is your ultimate goal. Inviting students into a program focused on their individual success is not punitive, but a showing of faith and support. When incorporated properly, the vast majority of your students can and will be successful.


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