Top Three Strategies for Student Success
Student success is a top priority for 94% of higher education leaders, yet defining what it means remains challenging, with only 34% agreeing on a common definition. Traditionally, success was defined by graduation rates and GPA scores, but the concept has evolved. As times have changed, so have institutional and societal views of success, which have expanded beyond academic achievements to encompass a comprehensive set of factors, including mental and physical health, financial security, and job readiness.
So, how are college and university leaders ensuring student success? We conducted research in collaboration with The Chronicle of Higher Education, and here we provide an exclusive look into the findings and commentary from five education leaders and industry experts.
John Gunkel, Senior Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs & Strategic Partnerships at Rutgers University – Newark
Greg Rathert, Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs at St. Paul College
Cynthia Hernandez, Vice President for Student Success at Texas State University
Sarah E. Whitley, Vice President of Center for First-generation Student Success at NASPA
Lyquaia Purcell, Senior Director of Business Transformation at Ellucian
1. Focus on Closing Equity Gaps and Improving Social Mobility
The survey of 414 respondents, including presidents, provosts, vice presidents, and deans from two- or four-year colleges in the United States, highlighted several insights into the strategies for student success.
A primary initiative addresses challenges faced by low-income students, students of color, and first-generation students. The panel comprised Minority Serving Institutions, with more than 30% of their students identifying as first-generation, with the same percentage of students eligible to receive a Pell Grant.
Using data analysis to identify areas of inequalities and implement strategies within these student groups and others to tackle those disparities is essential for promoting student success. Lyquaia Purcell of Ellucian was particularly drawn to the results around data as she identified it as "the new currency of higher education." She emphasized that Student Information Systems provide a 360-degree view of the student to provide proactive support.
In tune with Lyquaia, Sarah E. Whitley of NASPA highlighted the importance of deeply understanding your students to promote their holistic success. She stated, "80% of schools use data to inform decision-making, but only 20% are putting that data into their Student Information System." This makes it challenging to pinpoint and address roadblocks across multiple departments quickly.
By identifying disparities with the help of scalable technology, colleges can develop targeted interventions that support the struggles historically excluded students face.
2. Embrace Data as Higher Ed’s New Currency
The second emerging student success strategy is leveraging technology to empower students with analytics-based insights, flexible learning models, enhanced career services, financial aid, and physical and mental health resources. Technology can be crucial in fostering student success through easily accessible information and services, such as online academic advising and virtual tutoring.
Greg Rathert of St. Paul College shared how ongoing pressures on demonstrating the value of higher education have pushed his institution to frame student success through new data sets. For instance, they use technology to track their efforts in connecting historically excluded students to valuable jobs in high demand and with sustained salaries.
His data allows institutions like St. Paul to have that 360-degree student view that Lyquaia highlighted. Higher education leaders can address questions like, "How are you preparing to support first-gen students that you are intentionally recruiting?" and "Is your institution persisting, graduating, and promoting the well-being of all students."
John Gunkel and his team at Rutgers University are also in the process of reimagining student success and identifying metrics that matter through technology. Rutgers focuses on social mobility and academic access as critical factors to their success framework. They specifically track how their current students and graduates engage with the city of Newark, which allows them to be more informed and intentional with academic mapping.
Check out the new research brief to learn more about the relationship between data and student success.
3. Adopt a "We're All in This Together" Mentality
Cynthia Hernandez of Texas State University added to the data conversation by emphasizing, "There will never be one office that can do all this [student success] work. It's every department's work." Establishing champions across your institution that are empowered by technology is essential to developing and sustaining a student success framework.
This conversation tied to the third strategy from the survey findings, which identifies the importance of cross-department advising and providing students with comprehensive support services. College leaders indicate that academic advising is the top priority for investing in student success, followed by career services, tutoring, and financial aid. Institutions must provide adequate resources and personnel to assist students in navigating complex academic, personal, and financial challenges.
Finally, faculty buy-in and engagement are essential for ensuring student success. Institutions must actively involve faculty in discussions and decisions around student success and ensure faculty members have the resources and support they need to thrive in their roles. During the panel discussion, Greg emphasized, "It's all about culture. Encourage your team members to look inwardly at their role and see how it connects to the larger institutional strategy...student success should inspire and motivate faculty and staff."
Maximizing student success requires a comprehensive strategy that aligns with institutional goals and objectives. A shared framework of student success and implementing targeted strategies to close equity gaps, leverage technology, and support students' fundamental needs are critical factors for positive change.
The insights from the "New Strategic Directions for Student Success" forum and research brief provide a valuable roadmap that higher education leaders can use to drive their strategies and empower student success.