Monday, February 8, 2010

Different Schools, Different ASP

We accept that different schools have different characteristics, different personalities, different cultures and histories. This is an important thing to consider when designing or re-designing your ASP program. One-size-does-NOT-fit-all in ASP; ASP, to be successful, must meet the needs of a unique student body, but also reflect the culture of the school. That is not to say that there are not best practices in ASP (subject of a different post), but it does mean that a program that might be stellar at one school can be lackluster (or harmful) at another.

1) What is the culture of the school? Competitive? Community-oriented?

My experience is that the more competitive the school, the more invisible ASP should be to the general student body. This sounds counter-intuitive to many, but there is significant experience behind this opinion. At highly competitive schools, the students who most need academic help will avoid anything that makes them look weak. Because these students feel weak, they will walk to the other side of the building to avoid being seen near the place where people get help with problems. However, students in the top of the class looking for any extra edge will seek out ASP and monopolize resources.  This upside-down appeal exacerbates problems rather than helping students in need. The best ASP at highly competitive schools is still ASP, but it looks like something else. These schools do best with a class-based program, where students meet on a regular basis, but the class looks like any other class at the school, not a class for people who are struggling.  The ASP Director should NOT be called an ASP Director; they should have a position and a title that is similar to other academics at the school. ASP classes at these schools should be intensive skills courses, preferably hybrid doctrinal-ASP; students want to know their time is being well-spent doing something about their grades.  Students are identified for ASP by a professors, administrators, using student-disclosed information; the more concrete the referrel, the better.

Community-oriented schools will miss significant numbers of students if they adopt this model. At schools that appeal to students with a less-competitive, community-minded approach to legal education, students are more likely to reliably self-identify. ASP looks less academic, more administrative, and has a hybrid student-services approach. ASP is not shameful, because it is a resource for all students, and going to ASP is less stigmatizing for students in distress. ASP can be a drop-in center with regular hours for students to ask questions, check out extra resources, and come in for help. 

There are in-between models for schools that mix and match elements of either model. I don't believe that any one model is ideal; all models should reflect student needs and practices. The problem is when a school adopts a program because it has been shown to be effective at a school completely unlike their own. This can happen for any number of reasons.Before you plan an ASP program, it's best to know the population you will be working with.

I realize that I am going to get flak about the vagueness of the terms "highly competitive" and "community oriented."  To quote Justice Potter Stewart..."I shall not today attempt further to define [what] I understand to be embraced . . . [b]ut I know it when I see it . . . "

2) What are the student needs? Do you have an evening program? A large number of non-traditional students?

Non-traditional students will have non-traditional ASP needs. A class-based system for non-traditional, part-time, or evening students is not feasible during their first year. Every hour outside of work and classes is occupied with another high-priority committment, like family. Resources and help need to be available to these students. A robust website with PowerPoints, self-help guides, and referrel information is important, so they students can get information on their own schedule. Working with professors of doctrinal classes is also helpful; even if ASP is integrated a few hours a semester through doctrinal courses, it will help students in need. No one is stigmatized, and no one feels left out, because everyone is getting the same material.  Caveat: For the ASPer's own health and well-being, they can not be available to both day and evening students for all their needs.

3) What is history of the school with ASP? Have they ever had a program? Why didn't it work?

Some faculty and schools with reticence towards ASP have just had the wrong model ASP at their school. ASP can look ineffective and costly if it does not reflect the culture, history, and needs of the students and the school.  But when ASP fits a school, it hits a sweet spot; students in need receive help to achieve their potential, no one is labeled or stigmatized, it builds goodwill with students which can aid in alumni development, and faculty get better exams because students have a better idea of what is expected of them.  (RCF)

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