Student Success

A lot goes on to assure students succeed. But what actually has an impact?


If, at the end of the day, the main, overarching goal of a campus is not to assure that students are succeeding, they are in the wrong business. Every decision we make needs to be centered upon students. Policies should be enacted with student interests at their heart. It's about them, after all. Not what makes our lives as faculty, staff, or administrators easier. Spring Break shouldn't be scheduled when it's convenient for faculty; it should be placed where it makes pedagogical sense for maximizing learning and the student experience.

But in an era where student success permeates campuses, we have undertaken dozens of efforts within each campus to try to increase student success. From First Year Experience programs to academic advisors to 15 to finish campaigns, we have implemented widespread efforts to help students strive and thrive. But, if a campus has roughly 100 budget lines that touch on the sphere of student success (even if just tangentially), how can we tell what role each plays in a 2% retention increase or a 5% increase in graduation rates? On most campuses, we aren't able to holistically look and determine which efforts are having what degree of impact. So, we continually fund programs and projects almost out of a fear that a potential cut could eliminate a piece that is vital to student success.

Student success is equally troubled by the varying possible definitions. We like to focus on graduation rates and retention rates. While these make sense given the goals of higher education--and are data points we already collect--simply keeping a student enrolled and eventually having them graduate may not indicate actual success. After all, if we retain a student we don't think will be successful, take another $20,000 from them, and then academically dismiss them, was retention actually a success? Or is it a success for a student to do the bare minimum over four years, never experience co-curricular offerings, and leave with mixed emotions about the institution despite having a degree? We need to be creative and mission-driven when determining if students are succeeding.

My vision for student success involves examining the holistic student, integrating data from across campus, and instilling campus-specific considerations into determining what is actually working for certain students. Assuring student success will never be a one-size-fits-all enterprise. But, if we can create buckets of students (whether currently enrolled or incoming) and design student success packages for their particular needs, we can at least have a starting point from which to customize. Simply telling student to do better or try harder isn't enough. How can they know what in many cases even we don't?