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Raising the bar

This past semester Castleton State College students did something at a higher rate than students here have done since 1992. They passed.

As recently as 2003, more than 12 percent of Castleton students were “in trouble,” which the college defines as being on academic probation or being dismissed for academic reasons.

Since then, that percentage has gone down each year, and the fall 2005 semester had the lowest percentage of “in trouble” students in past 14 years. Only 8 percent of students fell into this category last semester.

Academic Dean Joe Mark credits the schools increasing standards in selecting incoming students as the main reason for why students are now succeeding at such a higher rate.

“High school performance has always been the most reliable predictor of academic performance at Castleton, and just in the last year, fall 2006 versus fall 2005, the average high school rank percentile gained 5 percentage points,” Mark said

With the college now accepting students who did better in high school, it makes sense that grades are improving at C.S.C., said Associate Academic Dean Honoree Fleming.

Fleming said the main reason students get “in trouble” is because of a lack of motivation.

“When we accept students whose skills and motivations are greater, which are shown largely by their high school rank, then they have a better chance of staying in school, which causes the dismissal percentage to go down,” she said.

The numbers support these assertions. Incoming students’ average SAT score of 976 is at an all time high for the college — nine points higher than in 2003 and 110 points higher than in 1995. And their academic grade point averages were in the top 44 percent at their high schools, which is a four percent increase over the incoming class of 2003, and 13 percent from 1995.

Dean of Students Gregory Stone believes that there is more to it than just accepting students who are possibly better prepared for college. He credits people in the Student Life and academic dean’s offices for making a more concerted effort to help students in academic trouble.

“We intervene early to hopefully redirect the student’s focus back to the classroom and address other needs or situations that may be causing them not to succeed,” he said.

Stone also attributes the rise in the college community’s expectations on academic performances for the low dismissal rates.

“The classroom environment is not only more challenging, but more stimulating,” he said. “As we all know, no one ever rises to low expectations.”

Fleming said she does not believe that any specific major leads to more “in trouble” students, although she said major records are not kept for dismissed students.

“Most of these students failed because they were not going to class and if you don’t go to class, it doesn’t matter what you are taking,” she said.

And if you think that Castleton’s trend is statewide, you might be surprised. At least one other state school is seeing just the opposite.

Lyndon State College has seen a reverse effect in recent semesters, watching the number of students dismissed for academic reasons rise in each of the past four semesters from 3.2 percent up to 4.5 percent. Other Vermont state school’s numbers could not be found for this article.

With more students now applying to get into C.S.C. than ever before, Mark says that the early indications show that the students being accepted continue to be ones with a higher class rank. Because of this, Mark believes the college should be able to look forward to a continued increase in average academic performance from its students in years to come.