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TAILORING PROGRAMS TO SUPPORT STUDENT SUCCESS

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Abstract

This brief is aimed at staff, faculty, and administrators working to create effective programs to meet the needs of at-promise students. Here, we share the idea of tailoring as a means to personalize support to individual students while simultaneously engaging in a process of assessment and development that can be scaled up to support additional student needs. TOPIC/ISSUE DEFINITIONS Major and Career Self-Efficacy (MCSE): The extent to which a student believes they are capable of successfully identifying and pursuing a suitable major and career path given their interests, skills, and experiences. While institutions have paid increased attention to the needs of at-promise college students, enduring gaps continue related to their persistence and graduation. Often support services exist within silos to target a single aspect of identity (e.g., financial aid, multicultural center) and the onus to gain support is placed on students to connect resources to build comprehensive support systems. Instead, we propose the idea of tailoring as a means for providing support for students that meet individual needs and provide proactive support broadly. To tailor programs, staff, administrators, and faculty (hereafter referred to as institutional agents) do two things simultaneously. 1 They identify individual student needs while exploring if those needs reflect broader trends among the students served in the program. Staff then develop initiatives within the overall program for groups of students to address their multiple needs and complex identities. As compared to case management models that operate on an individual level, institutions may have many tailored programmatic supports, effectively serving thousands of students. In the Thompson Scholars Learning Communities (TSLC), tailoring was an effective way to support students with learning disabilities, mental health concerns, undocumented status, and/or financial insecurity. The TSLC program approached tailoring using five steps, outlined as follows: 1. develop high-trust relationships with students so practitioners can effectively learn about students' needs, anticipate challenges, and provide personalized support 2. help students better understand and articulate their own needs through guided reflection and self-assessment of academic and socio-emotional skills 3. collect a wide range of information from varied sources (e.g., self-assessments, peer input, transcripts) in order to build a comprehensive understanding of students' needs that encompasses individual concerns and broader trends across the population served 4. identify interventions that are potentially useful to students, pursue related professional development, and partner with campus organizations to coordinate resources/support 5. develop solutions that are tailored to individual needs, and eventually scalable to the group PASS.PULLIAS.USC.EDU • 3470 TROUSDALE PARKWAY, WAITE PHILLIPS HALL 701, LOS ANGELES, CA 90089-4037 • TEL: 213-740-7218
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TAILORING PROGRAMS TO SUPPORT
STUDENT SUCCESS
MAY 2021
This brief is aimed at staff, faculty,
and administrators working to create
effective programs to meet the needs
of at-promise students. Here, we
share the idea of tailoring as a means
to personalize support to individual
students while simultaneously engaging
in a process of assessment and
development that can be scaled up to
support additional student needs.
TOPIC/ISSUE DEFINITIONS
Major and Career Self-
Efficacy (MCSE): The extent to
which a student believes they
are capable of successfully
identifying and pursuing a
suitable major and career path
given their interests, skills,
and experiences.
While institutions have paid increased attention to the needs of at-promise
college students, enduring gaps continue related to their persistence and
graduation. Often support services exist within silos to target a single aspect of
identity (e.g., financial aid, multicultural center) and the onus to gain support
is placed on students to connect resources to build comprehensive support
systems. Instead, we propose the idea of tailoring as a means for providing
support for students that meet individual needs and provide proactive support
broadly. To tailor programs, staff, administrators, and faculty (hereafter referred
to as institutional agents) do two things simultaneously.1 They identify individual
student needs while exploring if those needs reflect broader trends among the
students served in the program. Staff then develop initiatives within the overall
program for groups of students to address their multiple needs and complex
identities. As compared to case management models that operate on an individual level, institutions may have
many tailored programmatic supports, effectively serving thousands of students. In the Thompson Scholars
Learning Communities (TSLC), tailoring was an effective way to support students with learning disabilities,
mental health concerns, undocumented status, and/or financial insecurity.
The TSLC program approached tailoring using five steps, outlined as follows:
1. develop high-trust relationships with students so practitioners can effectively learn about students’ needs,
anticipate challenges, and provide personalized support
2. help students better understand and articulate their own needs through guided reflection and self-
assessment of academic and socio-emotional skills
3. collect a wide range of information from varied sources (e.g., self-assessments, peer input, transcripts) in
order to build a comprehensive understanding of students’ needs that encompasses individual concerns
and broader trends across the population served
4. identify interventions that are potentially useful to students, pursue related professional development, and
partner with campus organizations to coordinate resources/support
5. develop solutions that are tailored to individual needs, and eventually scalable to the group
PASS.PULLIAS.USC.EDU  TROUSDALEPARKWAY,WAITEPHILLIPSHALL,LOSANGELES,CA  TEL: 
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Tailoring is a way to support students’ unique and multidimensional needs. Tailoring entails taking
into account students’ multiple, intersecting identities while also taking inventory of and developing
programmatic interventions that can support those needs. For example, TSLC created a program to support
students on academic probation, who they noted were primarily students who came in with low ACT scores, worked many
hours, and were parents. First, they gathered data to see trends among students on academic probation and noticed key
subpopulations experiencing challenges. These students were then enrolled in a specific program where they had more
frequent meetings with staff, additional study hours, and increased grade checks. Ongoing assessments were conducted
to see how the program was effective and devise additional areas of growth.
To tailor programs, staff engage in a process of simultaneously understanding individual needs
and assessing how needs are shared across students. Institutional agents work at two levels simultaneously:
interacting with students to understand their multiple individual needs and exploring how those needs might be shared
amongst other students. For example, a career advisor may discover that a couple of their first-generation college
student advisees are having difficulty developing resumes and cover letters. That advisor could collect data informally
or formally to see how these trends applied across other first-generation students and other minoritized groups on
campus while also trying to learn more about the specific obstacles their advisees encountered. The end result might be
a workshop on developing career documents geared towards first-generation students and other subpopulations.
Tailoring draws upon three design principles: asset-based, student-centered, and holistic. The programs
built upon the capabilities that students bring with them with them (asset-based), while considering both academic and
interpersonal aspects of individual experiences (holistic). These approaches also considered how individual student
experiences could inform future programming for students with similar identities and experiences (student-centered).
Tailoring can reduce the cognitive load of students. Rather than placing the onus of navigating higher
education on at-promise students, tailoring proactively assesses student needs and works to adapt institutions to
support diverse groups.
RECOMMENDATIONS
1. Prioritize developing high trust, caring
relationships. Trust serves two vital purposes in
the tailoring process: (1) students are more likely to
share their challenges and aspirations if they trust an
institutional agent, thus allowing for program staff to
more deeply understand barriers and strategies; and
(2) students are more likely to engage with/listen to
program, peers, practitioners if they have developed
trusting relationship.
2. Gather examples of possible interventions to
draw upon. While the final implementation of any
tailored programming requires specificity to campus
dynamics and student needs, much can be learned
by sharing resources. Shared repositories of tailoring
solutions provide a helpful starting place to explore
and generate new ideas. At an institutional level,
designate one office to track examples of tailored
programs that could serve as a model for others.
Higher education professional organizations can
also assist in creating these repositories across
institutions or programmatic areas. Moreover,
investment in professional development amongst
institutional stakeholders may allow for successful
initiatives in other contexts to be adopted and
modified given individual circumstances.
3. Offer clear signposts to students. Once programs
have identified and created program elements to
support students, effective tailoring entails making
sure students know which resources exist and how to
access them.
4. Pay attention to the ways that individual
needs and opportunities inform how a
program and its institutional agents serve a
group. Gaining nuanced appreciation for students’
backgrounds, challenges and navigational strategies
has potential for guiding how program elements and
practitioner approaches evolve in response to student
needs.
KEY TAKEAWAYS
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STUDY OVERVIEW
Recommended citation:
Bettencourt, G.M., Corwin, Z.B., Kezar, A., Kitchen, J., Estes, H., Hallett, R., & Perez, R. (2021). Tailoring programs to support student
success [Brief]. USC Pullias Center for Higher Education.
Notes
1. Kezar, A., Kitchen, J., Estes, H., Hallett, R., & Perez, R. (2020). Tailoring programs to best support low-income, first-generation, and racially minoritized college
student success. Journal of College Student Retention. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1177/1521025120971580; Kezar, A., Perez, R., Kitchen, J., & Hallet, R. E.
(forthcoming). Learning how to tailor a program to support low-income, first-generation, and racially minoritized student success.
What types of needs have you identified amongst the at-promise students on your campus over the past year? How
did you learn about those needs?
What types of data might you need to collect in order to understand if individual concerns are shared broadly across
multiple groups?
Can you think of a time when your institution or program has attempted to tailor a programmatic intervention to
meet student needs? What was the instance and how did it go?
How do you communicate to students the range of resources that exist to support their needs?
QUESTIONS TO GUIDE PRACTICE
We studied the Thompson Scholars Learning Communities (TSLC), a set of programs providing low-income students,
many of whom are also first-generation college students and racially minoritized students (whom we refer to as at-
promise students) with a comprehensive array of academic, personal, and social support services. Students participate
in two years of structured programming, and receive a generous scholarship that covers the cost of tuition and fees in the
University of Nebraska system located at three very different types of campuses—a metropolitan college, a rural regional
campus, and a research one institution. Our mixed methods study explored whether, how, and why the programs develop
key psychosocial outcomes critical for college student success such as sense of belonging and academic self-efficacy.
Qualitative data was gathered through longitudinal interviews with TSLC students, staff, instructors, and stakeholders,
as well as through program observations and documents. Quantitative data was gathered through longitudinal surveys of
students, including TSLC participants and students with similar characteristics who did not participate in TSLC, as well as
administrative records.
This brief is based on findings by the research team members of the Promoting At-Promise Student Success (PASS) project and
was prepared by Genie M. Bettencourt and Zoë Corwin. Authors listed on the suggested citation contributed to the development
of the ideas presented in this brief, and are listed alphabetically following the primary author(s) who drafted the brief. For more
information about the PASS project please visit the project website: PASS.Pullias.USC.edu. The complete list of team members/co-
authors can be found there.
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