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Pre-semester workshops and student nurse retention.

The purpose of this study is to determine if student confidence levels change when attending a series of five pre-semester orientation success workshops. This research was conducted at a Canadian Community College whose attrition rates for the Practical Nursing program within the host college average 36%.

The workshop sessions occur prior to the student starting their program, and have two main purposes: to offer the student a connection to the college before they begin their program of choice, and to increase their confidence levels in their ability to fit into college life and be successful in their program of choice.

Key Words: Student Retention, Student Orientation, Pre-semester workshops


Research has shown that some of the ways institutions can address attrition issues in post-secondary education is through the use of orientation programs which provide a connection between student and institution. Further research states that if a student has the confidence to believe they will be successful in their program, they have a much higher degree of success in said program.

For these reasons, a series of five pre-semester orientation workshops were developed for new Practical Nursing students. These workshops were developed with the researcher, Practical Nursing faculty, and with the approval and cooperation of the Dean of Community and Health Studies and Dean of Student Services.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study was to investigate the impact of pre-semester success workshops on establishing a connection between student and institution, and analyzing student perceptions of confidence levels on their ability to persist and succeed for students who do attend said workshops.

Limitations of the Study

Limitations of this study include that the research was be conducted within a single college campus. Further, participants will be restricted to those students enrolled in the two-year Practical Nursing program at said college campus. Limitations also include the fact that participation in the pre-semester orientation success workshops was optional; therefore, selection bias makes it impossible to analyze the effect of the workshops separate from pre-existing effects present within participants. A further limitation is related to the actual number of participants who agreed to complete the two surveys. The pre-semester success workshops were capped at a limit of 60 participants. Forty students emailed and registered for the workshops. However only 25 were present at the beginning of the workshops (Pre) and 14 participants were present at the end (Post). It is impossible to state why attendance did drop off at the end without further investigation. Therefore, a limitation of this study is the fact that follow up is not possible due to the anonymity involved in the research.

Review of the Literature

Vincent Tinto's work on student retention issues may seem dated, however it continues to be referenced and used today as a basis for current research and literature. Tinto (1990) states that student involvement in an institution is imperative for retention programs to be effective. One of the ways to foster student involvement is by creating a culture where students are seen as valued members. Tinto states that regardless of student race, gender, and type of study, institutions that endeavour to establish a personal contact with students have increased retention rates. It is through personal connection between student and faculty members, and between student and institution that can convey a perception of value for students. Other factors such as a positive transition, connectedness, a positive social environment, and familiarity with the institutions policies and procedures are all factors that a college can assist with. Tinto further hypothesizes that positive connections with the institution should increase student goals, commitment, and persistence (Burgette & Magun-Jackson, 2008-2009). Student-faculty contact outside of the classroom is imperative to making a positive connection between student and institution (Tinto, 1990). Tinto's model examines student characteristics such as family, abilities, skills, and goals as some of the influences of success (Burgette & Magun-Jackson).

Albert Bandura expands upon Tinto's work with respect to confidence, self-efficacy, and control. Banudra (1997) states that in order to achieve goals, students attempt to gain control over events in their lives related to said goals. Students persist more within their studies if they have the confidence and perception that their actions will be successful (Bandura). Student perception of self-efficacy is related to academic choice and growth (Bandura, Barbaranelli, Caprara, & Pastorelli, 2001). Further, a strong perception of self-efficacy leads to increased commitment, analytical thinking, increased motivation, persistence in challenging tasks and setbacks, and a stronger response to adversity (Banudra, 1997).

Student Retention Rates

Attrition rates for colleges from first to second year range from 30-50%, and more than one-third of college students do not graduate from their program of study (Burgette & Magun-Jackson, 2008-2009; Tinto, 1987). There are many reasons for this-financial, poor student-institution fit, motivation, inadequate preparation, changing academic or career goals, unrelated personal reasons, college's 'open door' policies, and lastly, that the institution has not created an environment that is conducive to student learning and educational needs. Jones (2008) also states that students often leave their program and /or institution prior to graduation for a variety of reasons: poor preparation, incorrect program fit, decreased social integration, and financial and personal circumstances. Increased attrition and decreased retention rates not only greatly affect the student body, but also has repercussions for the institution in the form of academic reputation (Ari, 2009).

Analysis of the Data

Within this study, two surveys were used; one that offers a Likert scale, and a second that allows a narrative response. The Likert scale survey will be examined first.

As stated earlier, students with increased confidence in their abilities to succeed have increased Grade Point Averages, increased retention rates, and tend to stay in school more than those students who have decreased confidence in their abilities (Dyson & Renk 2006). Respondents displayed a definite increase in student perception of confidence in ability to be successful in their academics. Within the measurement of 'very confident' results show an increase greater than 20% and under the measurement of 'extremely confident' results show an approximate increase of 14%. This clearly demonstrates that for students who attend the success workshops, confidence levels increase with respect to their own perceptions in the abilities to succeed.

When asked to address the job a student is expecting to be eligible for after completing post-secondary education, within the 'very confident' category, there is a drop of confidence of approximately 8%. Without further exploration, it is difficult to state the reason for this. However, one could postulate that if a student is attending a pre-semester orientation program and decides that the program they are enrolled in is now what they had expected, this is actually a valuable insight prior to starting the program. It may be beneficial emotionally, financially and personally for a student to discover that a particular program is not for them earlier rather than later in the program. However, when examining the category 'extremely confident' data shows a greater than 25% increase in respondent confidence levels in their knowledge of what job they want after graduation. Therefore, it appears the success workshops give participants a good idea of not only the demands of the educational requirements to graduate from the program, but also the professional expectations of same. For those students who feel a practical nursing education and profession is a fit for them, they show increased confidence levels.

One way to ensure students' find the correct balance between academics and personal life is to explain program outcomes and expectations early. This allows students to properly plan their life once their program begins. This issue was covered within the success workshops in a number of ways including a discussion of the practical nursing program, preparation for tests and assignments, allowing students to see a course outline, and participating in a mock lecture with homework and a test the following week. When asked about school/life balance, there was an approximately 25% increase in participant response under the 'very confident' category, indicating that the success workshops offered insight into how a student may plan and ensure they find a balance between academics and personal life. Within the category of 'extremely confident', responses show a decrease of approximately 16% indicating that for some students, finding the correct life balance remains a challenge and was not resolved within the five-week workshops. It could be argued that having this information prior to the start of class is much more beneficial than discovering this once classes begin, as it allows a student more time to plan and organize their life in such a way as to create proper balance.

Similar results were shown when respondents were asked about time management as within the 'very confident' category respondents offered a 16% increase, and a 3% decrease within the 'extremely confident' category. This also suggest that for some respondents, they still have some work to do to ensure they are ready to start classes with strategies in place to ensure their time is managed well. Once again, it would seem this information is much more beneficial for a student to have prior to starting their program so they are able to put strategies in place once their program begins.

Kinder, Reed, Gillis, Arooz, and Jagg (2002) state that students need to connect and integrate into college life in order to be successful. When asked about navigating College services, we saw an approximately 32% increase within the 'very confident' category for student response relating to campus geography and awareness of available services. And although there is a modest 7% decrease within the 'extremely confident' category, the results overall are favourable and possibly, this area could be increased for future success workshops.

Student departure from post-secondary education has been shown to be directly related to decreased contact with others (Pascarella & Terenzini, 1979). It appears that the success workshops do foster a positive social milieu for new students, with the 'very confident' category showing an approximately 20% increase in confidence and the 'extremely confident' category showing an approximately 15% increase.

When asked if students know what is expected of them in class, we noted a 2% within the 'extremely confident' category, and a 30% increase of confidence within the 'very confident' category. The slight decrease within the 'extremely confident' category could mean that future workshops need to devote more time to classroom expectations. When asked about their ability to take good notes, we observed increases in 'confident', 'very confident' and 'extremely confident' categories of 10%, 11% and 2% respectively suggesting that the success workshops do help students in learning the important skill of taking useful notes. When asked about retrieving useful information from textbooks, data bases, and the internet, the 'confident' and 'extremely confident' categories show increases of 28% and 6% respectively, while the 'very confident' categories shows a decrease in confidence levels of 17%. This anomaly is difficult to explain but may suggest that more emphasis needs to be placed on information retrieval and/or computer skills in further workshop sessions.

When asked to judge their belief in their ability to be successful in their academics, results showed the categories of 'very confident' and 'extremely confident' with increases of 20% and 14% respectively. This question is broad in nature and findings could be hypothesized for other community college programs. Further much of the content delivered within the success workshops such as note taking strategies, classroom preparation, and expectations, (although in this study were directed toward the practical nursing program) are very 'generic' in nature and do apply to all post-secondary programs.

Finally, when asked if respondents know that they want to become a Practical Nurse, 'very confident' and 'extremely confident' categories show increases of 9% and 20% respectively. This suggests that the success workshops confirmed for many students that they have chosen the right program. For those who possibly decided that practical nursing is not the correct fit for them, it is beneficial that they discovered this fact prior to starting the program, rather than once they were enrolled.

The second survey used in this research consisted of five open-ended questions that allowed participants the opportunity to write their experiences within the success workshops. The questions included: What did you like most about the workshop today and why; What did you not enjoy as much and why; What do you feel you learnt today that you will apply to classes in September; What do you feel are the barriers in the way to you doing will in this program; and On a level of 1 to 10, 10 being the highest, how confident are you of doing well in this program and graduating?

Open-ended questions

The second survey also included 4 open-ended questions. This survey was completed the same weeks as the Likert survey (July and August). Participant responses were then grouped together with the intent of examining any themes and repetition that occurred from the responses.

When asked what they liked the most about the workshop why, 36% wrote how seeing a course outline was very helpful. When asked what they did not enjoy as much 54% of pre respondents and 36%) of post responded stated there is nothing they did not enjoy about the workshops.

When asked what they learnt today and if they will apply this to their classes in September, 75% of pre respondents stated program expectations is an issue, this number dropped to 25% for post respondents. Lastly, when asked what they felt are barriers to them doing well in the program, many respondents stated that time management remains an issue.


The participants reported an increase in their belief that they would be successful in their academics, and this increase rose from the beginning to the end of the five sessions.

Further, when workshop participants were asked to rate their confidence levels in being successful and graduating, confidence levels rose 21% (Pre and Post) from the beginning and end of the five week sessions.

It was also shown that the workshops helped students in finding a balance between academics and personal life. Mature students, Second Career students, and the fact that many students work, are only some of the issues that students face. This suggests that for some respondents, their confidence did increase fairly substantially. The pre-semester workshops were intended to give participants a realistic set of expectations for the program, and demonstrate that they still have some planning to do to ensure they do find the correct balance between academics and personal responsibilities.

It is vital for colleges to explain the expectations of their programs to students in orientation sessions (Yorke & Thomas, 2003; Crosling, 2003). When asked if they know what is expected of them in the classroom, workshop participants report a 30% increase and 2% decrease (Pre and Post) within the 'very confident' and 'extremely confident' categories respectively. Certainly the 30% increase (Pre and Post) is significant and suggests that the workshops are providing participants with the information they need with respect to program expectations.

When students have increased confidence, they persist more with their studies, adopt better study and learning habits, have higher cognitive process, and adopt increased self-regulatory strategies (Hsieh, Sullivan, & Guerra, 2007; Majer, 2009; Pintrich, 2000; Pintrich & DeGroot, 1990). The second survey utilized in this research asked the question: On a level of 1 to 10, 10 being the highest, how confident are you of doing well in this program and graduating? Results show an increase of 21% (Pre and Post) on the higher scale (10) of the survey. This means that by the end of the workshops, many respondents felt more comfortable in their ability to graduate than when they started the workshops. Other data support this hypothesis such as the Likert confidence survey which addressed such aspects as participants know they want to be a practical nurse, they feel they can work effectively with their classmates, and they feel prepared for upcoming tests and assignments, All three of these categories showed increases (Pre and Post) within the 'extremely confident' measure, and with the exception of working effectively with classmates, all showed increases within the 'very confident' measure. Therefore, the pre-semester workshops have shown to increase student confidence relating to their abilities when they start their program in semester one.


University of Victoria


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Author:Jacobs, Steven
Publication:College Student Journal
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jun 1, 2016
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