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Innovative Ways to Support Student Success in Higher Education

  • 3 Min Read

Explore student success in higher education with experts from top institutions


Conventional wisdom suggests that students will be successful if they can just keep up with academic demands. But what if external factors—everything from one’s health to food security to financial stability and even a sense of belonging—are actually even more critical to student retention and ultimately, graduation?

D2L’s recent webinar, Student Success Reimagined, explored these themes with a group of expert practitioners from across the country. Moderated by Jeff Borden, D2L’s Vice President of Academics and Chief Academic, the session included perspectives from:

  • Dr. Tim Renick, Executive Director of the National Institute for Student Success at Georgia State University
  • Rachel Clapp-Smith, Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at Purdue University Northwest
  • Elizabeth Burns, Senior Success Coach at Sinclair Community College

How Higher Education Leaders Support Student Success

These leaders, whose institutions often serve first-generation, working, and low-income students, have found innovative ways to support them throughout their journey, often through technology.

“About two-thirds of students fall through the cracks because they don’t fit under the conventional student success measures,” explained Borden at the outset of the conversation. By focusing on cognition as the sole measure of success, when many students suffer from a lack of nurturing and a sense of isolation or a lack of belief in themselves, colleges and universities may be missing critical opportunities to help nontraditional students graduate.

Renick noted that since the outset of the pandemic in 2020, Georgia State has used predictive analytics through the D2L platform more aggressively. Students who have not logged on for more than three days will hear from an advisor. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Georgia State has made more than 30,000 of those interventions and has found that while this tool was initially created as an academic intervention, students needed other types of support.

“The advisors have turned into a concierge service, connecting students to all kinds of other resources across campus,” he said. Early warning signs that are academic in nature can uncover emotional and financial challenges more quickly.

“About two-thirds of students fall through the cracks because they don’t fit under the conventional student success measures” – Dr. Jeff Borden – Chief Academic, D2L

Creating a Diverse Student Success Infrastructure

At Purdue University Northwest, Clapp-Smith and her colleagues found that students often felt disconnected and became more vulnerable to falling through the cracks. To address this, they adopted a more appreciative advising model, allowing faculty and staff to get to know the students more deeply. They also combined a series of support services—a writing center, tutoring, supplemental instruction, and exploratory advising—into a one-stop shop. This concept has been appealing not only to the most vulnerable but to students across the campus, who drop in frequently to take advantage of the support services and make critical connections.

Sinclair Community College, meanwhile, has developed curriculum to help its students, who can feel squeezed between work, school, and family obligations. The student success course, which is required for all, features a component on grit and mindset. Many of the conversations that have grown out of that course have allowed Sinclair to reach out with additional supports to students, Burns said. For example, during the pandemic, Sinclair’s free counseling services were offered 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Students can take advantage of counseling over Zoom and are often more apt to do so if a trusted faculty member or coach reaches out, rather than having to figure it out on their own, she added.

Learn About Innovative Strategies to Support Student Success

Throughout the hour, these leaders provided a series of examples on how supporting the whole student—whether through simple acts like using preferred instead of legal names, to providing unexpected grants to help them finish out their courses of study, to offering food pantries—can make a huge difference in a feeling of belonging and, ultimately, graduation rates.

To learn more about these leaders and some of their innovative interventions, watch the webinar video here.

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Table of Contents

  1. How Higher Education Leaders Support Student Success
  2. Creating a Diverse Student Success Infrastructure
  3. Learn About Innovative Strategies to Support Student Success