A Simple Intervention That Supports Future Success of Students on Academic Probation: New Research by Mohawk College

The Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) published this report by researchers from the College Student Success Innovation Centre at Mohawk College. The report, written by Megan Waltenbury, Shannon Brady, Melissa Gallo, Nicole Redmond, and Tim Fricker, finds that ‘psychologically attuned’ letters to students on probation have a significant impact on their future success.  

Psychologically attuned letters are purposely designed to consider students’ experiences in an attempt to reduce feelings of shame, stigma and guilt when placed on academic probation. The attuned letters deliver essential bad news in a more positive way. This innovative approach was developed by Shannon Brady, her colleagues at Stanford University and the College Transition Collaborative (CTC) in order to decrease the likelihood of students who are placed on probation from dropping out of their program. Mohawk is the first college in North America to test and implement this intervention. 

In the Mohawk College study, students consistently reported a more positive emotional response to the reworded letters. More specifically, in an experimental test, compared with students who read Mohawk’s previous letter, students who read the attuned letters said they felt more hopeful, more supported, and that faculty and staff care. Administrative data also suggest an improvement in students’ subsequent term grade point average by 5.8 percentage points. 

These letters have been fully implemented at Mohawk College for over a year. The next phase of this project, already underway, includes a large, multi-institution project including a Canadian college and university, and an American community college and university.  

Learn more about this project.