A Santa Monica College (SMC) program designed to improve the academic standing, increase course completion and keep students off academic probation and enrolled in continuing study has won a state award.

The SMC Student Enhancement & Educational Research Project received the 2004-05 California Community Colleges Board of Governors “Exemplary Program Award.”

Last year, the project received the “Best Practice Award” from the National Council on Student Development, an affiliate of the American Association of Community Colleges.

The award is based on how a program affects students in the areas of access, retention, completion or transfer to a four-year college or university.

The award makes special note of underrepresented groups, support for students who are deficient in basic skills and the ability of the program to be used by other colleges across the state.

The Santa Monica College program was started in summer 2002 and has included nearly 2,000 students.

The program specifically targets students who are on academic probation — either because of poor grades or a low completion rate of attempted coursework.

The college has been concerned that about one-third of its first-time college students end up on academic probation, putting the students at risk of dropping out.

After research, SMC academic counselors devised a three-pronged approach to improve student academic achievement.

The primary strategy included “re-orientation” sessions, at least twice-a-semester visits with counselors, and English and math placement exams.

A yearlong study of probationary students completed in fall 2003 showed the program had a dramatic effect on student academic achievements.

Findings included that:

n half the students who attended the re-orientation went off academic probation;

n the percentage of students who continued their studies the following semester was 72 percent for those who had attended re-orientation, compared to 23 percent for students who had not; and

n students who completed the English and math assessment tests attained a higher course completion rate — 62 percent — than those who opted not to take the test — 49 percent for the English test and 48 percent for the math test.