How Should Colleges Approach Student Success When Different Definitions Abound?
At the most recent convening of Achieving the Dream, a non-profit focused on community college student success, president and CEO Karen Stout asked eight of the organization’s student scholars what completion means to them.
Completion. It’s a word that’s used a lot when people discuss student success, Stout says. Andstudents view the word in a different way than administrators. But first, a primer on student success: it’s a phrase that usually encompasses the departments, advisors, programs, tools, approaches, apps and software a school offers students to help them thrive as they work towards their educational goals. Students aren’t thinking about completion “based on a simulation of degrees or credentials,” Stout claims. Instead, they’re thinking about getting the skills and competencies they’ll need for their next step, be it starting a career or continuing their education.
Colleges in Achieving the Dream’s network track students from fall to fall and spring to spring, but for students retention is often about tomorrow. “Every student is coming and defining success differently,” says Stout. For one of the students Stout spoke to at the event, success may be as straightforward as “being able to make sure that she has the ability to get to class every day.”
Take Amanda Rodriguez, a senior accounting major at the University of Houston. She thinks what defines student success is being able to build the foundation to accomplish a life goal. That life goal doesn’t necessarily have to be related to work. For instance, someone’s can be to travel the world—- but a career can help her achieve it.
Ben Alemu , a senior studying biochemistry and cell biology with a minor in education studies at the University of California San Diego (and a former EdSurge Independent Contributor), also doesn’t define student success as fully academic. He views it as setting a personal goal that’s more actionable, such as for one’s career.
Because these different definitions of student success abound, Stout says conversations with an academic advisor that “span beyond just building a schedule” are important. As for advising technology tools, she believes that if they’re well-designed, they give students a real-time picture of how they’re progressing against their stated goals.
This article is part of an upcoming EdSurge Guide exploring innovations in student success, publishing March 26. The guide is sponsored by Salesforce.org, which had no influence on this story.
Career resources also important, Stout says. She referenced her time as president of Montgomery County Community College, which uses Career Coach—a tool that lets the school’s students see job demands and salaries in Montgomery County and nearby localities.
“That type of information was really important for students to have at the front end of their experience at the college,” Stout explains.
She says that too many students, especially those in community college who haven’t picked their majors, are taking classes that may not transfer or count toward their degree. And in the process, they’re using up their financial aid. She believes that all higher education institutions, particularly community colleges, have an obligation to make sure first semester students have three things:
- an educational plan—meaning, they can build up their schedule for their time there
- a financial plan—they know how much completing their program will cost
- a career plan—they generally know the field they want to go into
Rodriguez, the University of Houston student, has a career counselor who is focused on accounting majors. She says in the business school, students from each major get their own career counselor. Rodrigues adds, the counselors are “pretty well connected” with companies that are hiring.
Alemu says his school, UC San Diego, has invested in resources to help students get career-ready. These include portals where they can find internships and jobs, and the Co-Curricular Record (CCR), an official transcript issued by the registrar that lists a student’s experiences outside the classroom, such as a stint as a residence advisor.
Administrators presented the CCR to Alemu when he sat on the Changemaker Steering Committee in fall 2016. He explains that it was not presented for approval, but to share information. Alemu says conversations on such tools are mostly driven by the administration. However, Melissa Campbell, an engaged learning tools specialist at UC San Diego, tells EdSurge that students in the Education Initiative Workgroup were involved with brainstorming and implementing the CCR.
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Stout believes that it’s important for school administrators to listen to students’ voices when selecting the technology that will support students’ learning journeys.
“We see a lot of our colleges asking the students to experiment with the technology, so that it’s agile and they feel that it’s the right tool to support them,” Stout says. “I think there are lots of ways that colleges are gathering the student voice in crafting the processes for student intake through selection of major, into the classroom and out. So they’re not designing absent the student voice . . . they’re putting the student right in the center of design.”
However, she believes that colleges should design in a way that meets their institutional goals.
“I do think you want to design these systems in a way that supports students in the way the students want to be supported,” explains Stout. But if “they don’t want to pick a major,” she adds, “you can’t design to that.”