Portland Community College Portland Community College | Portland, Oregon

Student Retention

Student Scenarios


Jack is an active student in your class who seems to be a hard worker. After failing the first major assignment in your class Jack comes to talk to you about how he can improve. He still fails the second major assignment even after he had tried to complete the assignment properly. You realize that Jack just doesn't seem to have the skills needed to pass your class.

What do you do?

  • Determine if there is stress or test anxiety on the assignments.
  • Set up a meeting with Jack. Find out what kind of preparatory work he did and what his placement test scores were.
  • Facilitate additional help.
  • Grade based upon effort, when possible.
  • Suggest dropping the class until his skills and knowledge are increased. Encourage him to increase those skills.
  • Working in teams may help a student learn from others.
  • Extra credit assignment to build skills and help grade.
  • Work in lab or learning center.
  • Personal encouragement is critical.
  • Refer Jack to a student learning center.
  • Find a tutor to assign Jack. Pair him with a strong student.
  • Find out if something else is going on outside of school. If so, refer back to appropriate resources.


It is midway through the term and Bill has repeatedly asked if he can have an extension on each of the out-of-class assignments. Bill sends you an email to once again ask for more time. None of his work has been substandard but he doesn't abide by the timelines set forth for all students. Even when given an extension, he barely turns in his work by those deadlines. It is obvious that Bill does not have a propensity to finish his work on time.

What do you do?

  • Ask Bill some questions that might help you determine why his assignments are repeatedly late.
  • Are you working? Are you taking a lot of credits? What kind of other activities are going on in your life right now?
  • Present options for him based on answers.
  • Ask Bill to talk to his advisor/counselor about how to complete his work on time and improve time management skills.
  • Tell Bill that the purpose of the assignment is to both complete the work and to complete the work on time.
  • Explain to Bill that part of being competitive in the work force is finishing assignments on time.
  • Remember to treat him as a special and unique individual.
  • For future situations, clarify the syllabus to reflect expectations about late assignments.
  • Determine if turning work in on time is important. If it is not, just support the fact that it is turned in.
  • Explain to Bill that from now on there is zero tolerance for late work.


It is the fourth week of the term and thus far, Sally has only attended about half of the class meetings. You would like to talk to her about it but when she does attend class she arrives just as you are starting, and promptly leaves before you can catch her.

What do you do?

  • Call or email Sally and let her know you are concerned.
  • Place your direct phone number and email on a paper that you return to her asking her to contact you.
  • End class early and ask her to talk to you.
  • Ask her to talk with you as class is underway and students are talking to one another.
  • Make a positive comment about her attendance when you do talk with her.
  • Call on her in class to include her in the discussion.
  • Announce to the whole class that there are options and solutions even in difficult circumstances – this will help Sally feel more comfortable talking to you.
  • Contact her as soon as possible. Email can be less threatening than calling.
  • Express concern about absences.
  • Ask the question, "What can I do to help you?""
  • Offer in-class activities that are worth points to encourage attendance.
  • Add language to syllabus that clarifies attendance expectations.


Jill turns in an assignment that doesn't fit what you were looking for. Because it seems she has misunderstood the assignment, you turn it back to her with "Please See Me" on it so you can discuss it with her. Two weeks later she still hasn't come to see you and has now turned in another assignment with the same problem.

What do you do?

  • Attempt to deal with the problem face-to-face and quickly.
  • Try to establish a rapport with Jill to build trust and avoid a possible confrontational situation.
  • Make extensive comments on the paper if she does not come to see you.
  • Approach Jill personally and make a person to person connection before or after class.
  • Ask to see her before you return her second assignment and MAYBE give her an opportunity to redo both assignments.
  • Lesson learned – contact students in a more timely fashion if they do not contact you.
  • Be sure Jill truly understood the expectations of each assignment.
  • Wait one week at the most and then get in touch either in class or via phone/email.
  • Compare Jill's work with other students and see if they also got confused.
  • When asking Jill to contact you, give her a deadline so that you can respond to her if she doesn't respond in that timeframe.


Jim performs poorly on the first exam in your class partially because he was unable to finish the exam in the time allotted. Jim asks if you can give him extra time on the second exam.

What do you do?

  • Listen to Jim’s reason why he couldn't finish. Depending upon the reason, find him a time that he could take the test in a quieter environment where he has more time.
  • Determine how you generally handle issues of fairness in classroom situations.
  • If the case seems serious and Jim needs a lot of extra time, refer him to Disability Services to see if he might need special accommodations.
  • Find out if Jim needs to share notes with another student.
  • Offer him another option for test taking, if you are willing to do such things for students.
  • Be sure to allow enough time for even slowest students to finish the tests in class.
  • Find out if Jim needs to learn how to study so he is better prepared for future tests.
  • Ask the entire class if they want more time to take the tests.
  • Offer suggestions on how to reduce test anxiety.
  • Ask Jim if he has had this problem in the past.
  • Make practice tests available for students so they know what to expect.
  • Determine if Jim's learning style is completely different from how the test was given. If so, this may be a part of the problem.


It's the third week of class, you've assigned one short paper, and two journal assignments based on class reading. It's obvious in class that Steve has read the material and thought about it carefully. He asks insightful questions in class and refers to the text in class discussion. He has been in class every session. He has not, however, turned in any of the written assignments. You've mentioned to him that you've noted their omission and showed him the effect on his grade. He agrees to get them done. It's the fifth week and there have been three more written assignments. Still Steve participates actively in class but so far has not turned anything in.

What do you do?

  • Compliment Steve on his great classroom discussion.
  • Ask him why he is not handing assignments in. Discuss options based on his response.
  • Ask Steve his goals.
  • Suggest auditing the class as an option.
  • Explore the possibilities of sending Steve to the writing center if that will help him improve his writing and allow him to turn in homework.
  • Continue personal contact since that is how Steve has communicated so far.
  • Meet with Steve to find out what be preventing him from finishing assignments.
  • Test his writing skills to see if he has challenges in this area.
  • Find a writing center on campus who will work closely with him.
  • Offer him an option to record his voice instead of writing if it fits an assignment.
  • Help Steve come up with topics for his paper(s) and then mention the topics when talking with him to continue a dialogue about his assignment.
  • Positively acknowledge his participation and interest and then discuss concerns secondarily.


Susan is in your class and has been doing fine, but begins to miss classes, fails to hand in assignments, and generally is falling behind. You approach Susan after class and set up a time to talk to her. During this conference, Susan says: "I'm feeling totally overwhelmed by everything. My job is taking more time than I expected. I'm supposed to work 20 hours a week, but lately they want more hours from me, and now it's more like 30 hours a week. I'm behind in all my classes, not just WR 121, and I have a math exam next week. Besides that, I had a fight with my boyfriend and I've had to move out of my apartment and find another place, so I've been busy with moving my stuff. Now, on top of everything else, I have this chest cold – I feel terrible. I just don't know where to start, or what to do next. I feel like dropping out of school."

What would you do?

  • Prioritize responsibilities and eliminate the ones that are at the bottom of the list.
  • Reduce course load if necessary.
  • Help the student find resources necessary for her situation…resources may be both inside and outside of PCC.
  • Converse with Susan to make her feel calm.
  • Ask Susan for what kind of options might help her.
  • Explore solutions with Susan and leave the decision to her.
  • Find out if Susan’s problems are temporary or long-term...sometimes students forget that one week later, the problem will be gone (or smaller).
  • Offer some leeway with assignments without completely eliminating the fairness factor.
  • Offer sympathy – sometimes people need to vent.
  • Ensure that Susan establishes her own investment in success.
  • Help Susan prioritize.
  • Tell her to focus on certain classes and audit or repeat others, if necessary.
  • Suggest that she meet with a counselor or someone in financial aid if her biggest problem seems to be that she has to work 30 hours a week. Maybe she can get more financial aid.
  • Write down a list of what is due and Susan's current status. Sometimes seeing it on paper make it more achievable.
  • Set goals and deadlines for Susan that help her take manageable steps toward getting back on track.
  • Don't assume Susan wants/needs to drop even though she said it. That can be a response that one has when they are overwhelmed.
  • Tell Susan about the option of an audit if it seems inevitable that she may need to drop.


Jen continues to turn in substandard work, incomplete assignments. You have already met with her several times during your office hours to make sure she is clear on the assignments.

What do you do?

  • Establish base criteria that will help her understand what "substandard" work looks like. Establish a personal contact with Jen to determine what her goals are for this class and her college experience.
  • Find out if her life situation is harming her performance.
  • Look for other barriers when she talks about her life.
  • Do an assessment for referrals based on the help she needs.
  • Review her placement test scores in Banner.
  • Use learning styles to find out if there is another way to approach Jen that might be successful.
  • Create a contract for success with Jen.
  • Think about whether your department needs to have a "triage" center to address student issues like this.
  • Offer her the option to NP or audit the class.
  • Consider offering her an alternative way to demonstrate her competence in the subject.
  • Develop a rubric to demonstrate steps needed to complete successfully.


April is a good student who seems to put lots of pressure on herself to maintain a 4.0 She is currently getting a B in your class. It is week 8 and she insists she needs to drop if there is no way she can get an A in your class.

What do you do?

  • Find out why April thinks she HAS to earn an A in your course.
  • Explain to April that many people view a "W" on a transcript as negative – more negative than a "B".
  • Reiterate that the grade she gets is the grade she has earned.
  • Determine if there is time left for her to improve her grade – and then encourage her to do so.
  • Allow her (and others) to turn in work early so that it can be reviewed to help improve her grade.
  • Allow April to make the final decision. Do not make promises but encourage her to stay in class and perform her best.
  • If appropriate for the entire class, offer extra credit.
  • Have a conference with April letting her know via a comfortable conversation that a B is a good grade and above average.
  • Determine if April is being realistic about her grade. If she isn't, carefully tell her that learning to be realistic will help her when she enters the workplace.
  • Reinforcing her judgment by telling her how her thoughts matter is important.
  • Do the math on her grade and find out if she can possibly get an A. If she is extremely close, maybe there is some extra credit she can do to push the grade up a bit.
  • For future classes, be clear about grading criteria on the syllabus if you are not inclined to be flexible.
  • Suggest that April take the class as P/NP if it is evident she cannot earn an A in the course.
  • After determining why she is not getting an A, make an exception (if appropriate) to re-do a project or turn in additional work if it could change her grade.


Antoine, an older student in his late 20's, is just starting college after an injury brought his career as a professional dancer to an end. Although, he loved the world of dance, he is excited to be in college and understands that success requires commitment. A few weeks after the start of the term Antoine and his girlfriend become parents. Because of the high cost of day care Antoine and his girlfriend take turns providing childcare; Antoine cares for the baby during the day while his girlfriend works, and she cares for the baby in the evening while Antoine goes to classes. Financially strained, Antoine takes on a part time job working nights at UPS. Then he starts to miss class and turns in work only sporadically. Although having completed 3/4 of the course work, as the term comes to a close Antoine stops attending altogether and informs you that he intends to withdraw from your course as he is unable to keep up with his school work in addition to childcare and working part time?

What do you do?

  • Offer a few options from which he can choose.
  • If he is doing well, he may have a passing grade at the end of the term even if he stops showing up.
  • Encourage him to turn in work nontraditionally such as via email, fax and maybe even offer oral tests that could be done over the phone.
  • Allow Antoine an option to take an Incomplete and finish in the future.
  • Make sure that he knows his options for financial aid purposes and future terms.
  • Remind him that finishing gives him incentive for future terms and makes good use of the time he already invested.
  • Encourage Antoine to talk with a counselor (even walk him to the counseling office if possible) to find out about child care resources.
  • Reinforce his work he has already done in the term and how it is important not to throw that good work away by not finishing.
  • Help Antoine get connected directly with someone in Financial Aid that he can talk to.
  • Try to develop a support network (from resources available) for Antoine so that he has this network to fall back on in the future when he needs it again. This will encourage him to do this rather than resorting to dropping out.