In July, more than 200 educational leaders gathered for learning, sharing, and insight on “Fostering Student Success” at this year’s AASCU Academic Affairs Summer Meeting in Fort Lauderdale. But, it wasn’t the keynote that captured everyone’s attention, setting the stage for the entire conference. It was this short, sixty-second video of a gang of rugged cowboys on horseback herding a posse of fluffy felines.

The point of the video was simple: student success, what we work to achieve everyday, is challenging by nature because of the throng of moving parts associated with a student’s experience. Knowing this, institutions that are purposeful in the way they support students shouldn’t feel like cat herders.

Conference attendees defined student success as: 

“Degree program or certification completion, regardless of whether or not a student returned after stopping out or entered as a freshman, direct transfer, or as an adult learner with assorted credits and life experience.”

Student success, often linked to retention and graduation rates, has assumed a position of prominence in the national dialogue about higher education. In fact, it is increasingly tied to the national success of a global economy. According to the NCES, in an era of flat or decreasing enrollments (what higher education is experiencing now) student success is also deeply rooted to institutional success. Because of this, it is imperative that provosts and vice presidents of academic affairs realize that they must become the champions of student success on their campuses.

A few takeaways from the conference:

  • The “Student Success Framework” developed by the Lumina Foundation can serve as an information resource for all sectors of higher education and is a tremendous resource for campus leaders and teams.
  • Initiative fatigue is real and can hamper progress on campuses. Look at what you are doing well and identify opportunities to do better.
  • Both higher education and K-12 are having discussions about student success, but not together. As a result, there is a tendency to focus on the “remnants,” those who survive and graduate high school.
  • Higher education institutions are starting to see for profit companies as “partners” who can help them develop student success tools they couldn’t create on their own.
  • If we are serious about elevating the success for all students and leveling the playing field, then there is a need to focus efforts and resources on low-income students with need rather than competing for better students.
  • A new way of thinking to consider: “time is the variable, learning the constant.”  Focus on essential learning outcomes for all students– problem solving, personal responsibility, civic engagement, communication, and creative and aesthetic engagement. Saving students time will dramatically impact the affordability of their education.
  • Higher education institutions need to find ways to keep students in need of “remediation” engaged. Many schools are exploring ways to offer for-credit courses to students instead of non-credit remedial courses. 
  • Learning communities are springing up on many campuses to offer team-taught, interdisciplinary approaches. 
  • To achieve successful learning outcomes, there is a need to increase electronic advising, services, and support. It is also necessary for faculty to recognize their role in retention and graduation efforts.
  • Our belief about students has an impact. Do we believe all students can succeed or is our belief that some are meant to fail?
  • Silos do not promote success for students. Campuses need to assess how they are organized and how they align, advocate, and advance the work they do.
  • Not all students learn in the same way. There is opportunity to focus on what the essential learning outcomes are to give students voice and choice in their educational pathway.
  • If a student wants to transfer, they should clearly be able to map out a path of learning and success. How does your campus serve transfer students? Are they supported as effectively as a first-time student? Does inequity exist?
  • Can you name the champions of student success on your campus? If so, do faculty and staff know who they are?
  • Rather than placing responsibility on K-12 for getting students college ready– Higher Education should look for ways to partner.  For some inspiration take a look at CORE from Jacksonville State University.


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