April 12, 2005

Learning Skills Center gives students solid foundation

What began as a small tutoring center in 1979 has evolved and grown over the years, eventually becoming a full-fledged academic department to meet the changing needs of the University. The center still offers tutoring, but it has since been renamed the Learning Skills Center to reflect its primary mission of providing foundational skills and courses in reading, writing, algebra, geometry and study skills.

Often students are surprised by the fact that they need preparatory classes at all, says Roberta Ching, the learning skills center coordinator. But a recently released CSU system study of Fall 2004 incoming Sacramento State freshmen showed that 43.4 percent needed remedial classes in math and 55.1 percent needed them in English. The mean high school grade-point average of those needing remedial classes was 3.19.

"Students are amazed they have to take these classes because they got good grades in high school, but unfortunately sometimes high school just doesn't prepare them well enough for college-level courses," Ching says. "Almost all students need to get up to speed, and we help to level the playing field."

The center has expanded as enrollment has increased, but it experienced its most substantial growth after 1998 when it became mandatory that students take placement tests prior to entering college and take any required preparatory classes within their first year.

In addition to offering traditional courses, the center provides training programs for liberal studies majors and teachers. The center works closely with Summer Bridge, the Educational Opportunity Program, the College Assistance Migrant Program, and serves as the center for ESL services at the University.

The center also offers study skills courses for certain GE classes. These adjunct classes are one unit and open to all students. The classes reiterate the material taught in the GE courses, either with a tutor or in a group setting, and have had a high level of success, Ching says. Many of the students in the classes tend to outperform those that are not.

"We make a difference," Ching says. "We pride ourselves in how much we help students. Often we continue to work with them after they are done with their courses, helping them with advising or troubleshooting if they hit a bureaucratic snag. Not only do we help students, but we help with the University's retention and graduation rates as well."

Ching is currently working on an Early Assessment Program to let high school juniors measure their readiness for college-level math or English skills before they take the placement tests for college. The Early Assessment Program is a collaborative effort among the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and the California State University system.

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