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24 October 2007
Town & Gown:
Learning Services Celebrates 30 Years of Success

By Dr. William A. Meehan
President, Jacksonville State University
Weekly Column - Town and Gown

The Jacksonville State University Department of Learning Services is celebrating its 30-year anniversary. Learning Services has continually assisted students in mastering basic and life skills through competency-based courses in the Department of Learning Skills, and through learning assistance.

Learning services began offering courses and services in January 1977. During this time it was known as the Center for Individualized Instruction funded by a Title III grant from the US Department of Education. The first director of the Learning Services was Charles Merbitz, Ph.D., BCBA, who is currently chair of the Behavior Analysis Department at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Chicago, Ill. Dr. Claudia McDade, the current director, has been the director of the Learning Services for 27 years.

“Over 60,000 students have used Learning Services since 1977,” says Dr. McDade.

Learning Skills offers courses in the areas of reading, writing, numeracy, studying, reasoning, self management and career developments. Courses are classified “developmental” or “skill building.” While students may be placed in developmental courses due to their entrance exam scores on the ACT or SAT, students can choose to schedule a developmental course to strengthen their skills and to increase their readiness for, and successfulness in, higher courses.

In the Learning Services Department, developmental courses earn institutional credit, which counts toward a student’s total number of credit hours and grade point average. Over the past six years, students who started in developmental quantification Learning Services courses performed just as well in Math 100 and 112 as students who started with these courses.

Skill building Learning Services courses assist students in developing skills necessary for success in education and life. They can assist students in developing critical thinking, advanced reading, more effective study skills, understanding of university policies and procedures, and personal responsibility. Successful completion of these Learning Skills courses results in regular academic credit.

The Department of Learning Skills was certified by the National Association for Developmental Education in March 2007. This certification is at the distinguished or highest level; only five other programs in America have reached this distinction. Learning Services is the first and only certified program by the National Association for Developmental Education in the state of Alabama.

According to Dr. McDade, “Learning Services relies on student staff, composed of academically successful students who provide learning assistance and coaching in course offerings. The department produces credit hours at significantly less cost than other academic departments.”

Looking back at how the program has progressed through the years, Dr. McDade states, “The main difference that has taken place since 1980 is the restructuring of the department.” The department is more organized now than it was when she first became director.

It is important to stress the value of the program to the students who enroll in these developmental or skill building courses. “Many students have benefited from the program,” says Dr. McDade, “including the ones who have major difficulties in learning and comprehension.”

Dr. McDade is proud of the “student tutors who have a lot of patience when it comes to dealing with students who are in great need of our services.”

Dr. McDade says she has enjoyed serving as the Director of Learning Services over the years. In her own words, she describes the personal satisfaction she derives from this service:

“It has been a great ride, and I have enjoyed doing it. It has been an amazing experience working with people who really care. When students do well, we are excited for them and for us.”

Anne Muriithi, a graduate assistant in the Office of Public Relations contributed to this article.

About William A. Meehan

Dr. William A. Meehan is president of Jacksonville State University. His column, "Town & Gown," appears in The Jacksonville News.

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