Friday, November 3, 2006

The "Dream" Program

I was recently asked by an ASP colleague - “Do you work with students who are struggling or is any student eligible to take advantage of the services you provide?” Reflecting back on my time in the courtroom, the question seemed to be assuming facts not in evidence. In my office, I try to do both. On the one hand, any student can stop by my office for help. On the other hand, some students are strongly encouraged, or even required, to work with me based on their academic performance.

Why do I approach ASP work in this fashion? My ego forces me to believe that I can help any first-year students improve their academic performance. But, I am keenly aware that students do not enter law school with the same skill set in place and that some will need additional help in order to succeed. In addition, to paraphrase the old joke about specialists and generalists, I’m afraid that if I teach fewer and fewer students more and more, eventually I’ll be teaching no one about everything. On the other end of the spectrum, I run the risk of teaching more and more students less and less so that eventually I’m teaching nothing to everyone! 

Of course, a number of different factors dictate how we run our programs. For example, the administration, and sometimes the faculty, within our respective law schools are likely to have something to say about our mission. In many instances, this means emphasizing work with students whose pre-law school grades and test scores place them “at risk.” For some of us, this role is expanded to include assistance with the bar examination. This can mean working with the same “at risk” students as they complete their third year of law school, but it can also mean offering a bar prep course to the entire graduating class. 

On top of all this, we have the issue of stigmatization to consider. The more narrowly we define the students with whom we work, the more likely it is that they will be stigmatized by the experience. One may certainly argue that the issue of stigmatization is less important than making sure we apply our limited resources to the correct groups of students. On the other hand, stigmatization may alienate this very same group of students, making it less likely that they will receive the assistance they need. 

Just for a moment, let’s put aside the issue of faculty or administration expectations. Let’s imagine that bar passage rates are not a measure of a law school’s success and that students won’t feel stigmatized when they walk through out doors. Now, you have an opportunity to design your “dream” Academic Support Program. What would it look like?

Would we serve the entire student body? Remember, this is a dream Academic Support Program, so resources aren’t limited. Even with abundant resources, would we still emphasize working with certain segments of the student population? How about an umbrella Academic Support Program with several sub divisions covering work with “at risk” students, students taking the bar exam, and minority students? 

I don’t know about you, but I am eager to have this sort of conversation at one of our future conferences. As a group, I would love to design the “dream” Academic Support Program. I may not be able to implement such a program, but I would love to have a goal to aim for. (hnr)

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/academic_support/2006/11/the_dream_progr.html

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