Student success initiatives are important, as are the steps you take after they're up and running. Here’s what you should do.
With higher education enrollment rates steadily declining, student success initiatives are a great tool that tuition-dependent institutions can use to encourage retention from enrollment through to graduation. They show students—prospective and current—that they’re valued and will be supported in learning the skills they need to succeed in future careers.
But developing a student success initiative is only half the battle. The next steps an institution takes are just as, if not more important than getting a success initiative off the ground in the first place.
How to create a student success initiative
Unlike student success plans, which focus on helping individual students succeed, success initiatives should be tied to larger institutional mission statements and strategies around boosting student support overall.
There are three key components involved with getting any student success initiative off the ground:
- Taking an inventory of your current student support services and reviewing the effectiveness of those offerings.
- Analyzing student data—like grades, GPAs and test scores—to make data-driven decisions around what elements of student success you want to focus on and the specific goals you want to achieve.
- Using the information you’ve gathered to figure out ways to achieve the goals you’ve set.
Initiatives and goal-setting could include anything from offering more robust tutoring services to creating programs that help freshman students thrive as they transition from high school to college. The bottom line is that each initiative should be built around a specific and clearly defined goal. What that goal is will ultimately depend on your institution’s unique view of what student success looks like and what the institutional priorities are as they relate to strengthening student support.
So, let’s say your goal is improving student writing. After doing an analysis of student grades from students in the first year of a graduate program, you’ve discovered that a good proportion of them are challenged when it comes to academic writing at the graduate level. From a retention and graduation standpoint, you determine that addressing this problem is a priority for your institution. Knowing your current support service offerings, you decide that the best way to boost support for those students, and ultimately maintain retention and graduation rates within the program, is an initiative that involves the creation of a brand new online writing lab where graduate students can get help improving their scholarly writing skills.
I have an existing student success initiative. What next?
Getting the initiative off the ground is only the first step. The next steps you take are really the most important part of the initiative because they will help you to ensure its efficacy going forward. There are four crucial next steps to take:
STEP 1: With your plan in motion, you’ll have some new data to look at—the impact that your writing lab has had on graduate student grades, for example. Use that data to create a student service scorecard of sorts that you can use to present key student success metrics to critical institutional stakeholders—such as a school’s senior leadership— in a very clear and concise manner. When you’re open and transparent, there’s a better chance you’ll get the support that you need from stakeholders to further refine your initiative or investigate other student support strategies
STEP 2: Revisit existing academic policies and practices. Once you can map out and visualize where you’ve been successful and where you’re still challenged, see if there’s an area where you still need to provide more support. You might decide you need to do a better job of preparing students as they transition from college to graduate studies.
STEP 3: Develop milestones. Now that you’re addressing challenges and looking at policies, those milestones will help you to track that process so you can stay on top of your student success initiative.
STEP 4: Adopt a continuous improvement model. Have regular check-ins with critical stakeholders around your student success initiative to make sure that you’re meeting your milestones, and that you can find the right resources if you’re challenged.
Higher education institutions regularly struggle with putting on a human face. They’re large, bureaucratic, and can be hard to navigate. Student success initiatives can provide students with deeper connections to the institution and specific people within it. Any way an institution can build positive, useful bridges, staff to student, it will be a tremendous benefit to institution and student alike.
Check out how Saint Leo University used Brightspace to create an entire learning ecosystem to generate meaningful educational experiences for its students: