Student success planning has always been an important part of the higher education learning experience, but where the question used to be whether institutions could afford to do it, the question now is whether they can afford not to.
Higher education is an increasingly crowded, competitive landscape, one in which retention and graduation rates are an ever-increasing blip on any institution’s radar. A solid student success plan can be a key differentiator, a value-add that can persuade prospective students to pick one school over another, and encourage them to remain with that institution all the way from enrollment to graduation and beyond.
What does a student success plan look like?
Creating a student success plan should be a collaborative process that starts pre-admission. To be effective, the plan should be built around key pillars that touch on the multiple aspects of a student’s life inside and outside of school: academic advising, career development, learning life skills like financial wellness, and maintaining the student’s well-being overall—physical, emotional and social.
Building a success plan should start with an initial discovery phase where important information is gathered by the institution that can be best used to support prospective students. This phase could involve filling out a worksheet or engaging in an intake session with an advisor at student services, but the intention should always be to identify a student’s strengths, weaknesses, and family and economic concerns that might impact their ability to participate in school activities. In addition, the information collected during a student advisement session can be used to set academic and career goals, and further refine degree planning.
While the focus after that should be on allowing students to lead their own success plan; long-term planning should include regularly scheduled counseling and advisory sessions to make sure students are on pace to meet their graduation goals. Technology can be an effective tool to that end. A learning environment, or other kinds of student management or information systems, can be used to help students manage their own plan, maintain a schedule of related appointments and create early intervention systems that are designed to address potential academic and wellness issues.
How to develop a formal student success system
At the end of the day, student success planning is all about providing better support for the teaching and learning process and making sure students have the right academic and life skills. That’s the kind of full-service opportunity that today’s students are looking for from post-secondary schools.
The truth is, student success takes a village. So, here are seven factors to think about when developing a formal student success system at your institution:
- Help students set clear goals: Keep it simple, manageable, measurable. Start with the end in mind.
- Offer students clear guidance and flexible paths: Help students create a clear path toward their goals with milestones and regular check-ins during the journey.
- Create simple workflows: Be familiar with the steps and processes of the student journey and how they can be made clear and simple. This helps prevent students from getting lost in the maze. Regular communication is key.
- Know your students: Know their courses, activities, goals so that you can see where they are and what they’re able to do well.
- Know your data: Learn how to mine your learning analytics. Use data to drive continuous improvement efforts.
- Know your network: Get connected to exemplar organizations or institutions who have a great student success story and learn from them.
- Stay in it to win it: It may take time and effort to build a healthy village, but putting the effort at the beginning can prevent poor performance down the road.
Here’s how French-language college of applied arts and technology La Cité is identifying at-risk students sooner to improve retention rates:
Jon Paul is a content marketing manager at D2L. He’s into writing, creativity, content, advertising, marketing, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.
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