Joe is passionate about helping institutions improve student success and attain strategic goals with a holistic approach.
To address student success in higher education, we must simply look at everyone. You may be wondering how I came to this conclusion? At one point in a prior life I was chairing a committee on identifying “at-risk” students to whom we needed to direct our student success programming and efforts. With representatives from all facets of the campus, we held a full-day workshop. Our first objective was to identify these students.
What our Student Success Analysis Told Us
At the end of the day, we had defined twenty-six groups of students as “at-risk.” Groups such as first generation college students, lower standardized entry scores, lower high school GPA, students from high schools in lower socio-economic areas, and the list went on. As Dean, I sat back at the end of the day and asked myself: “What do I do with twenty-six different groups of students? Where do I even think about starting?” That is when it hit me that the one thing we had not done is asked ourselves who the students were that either failed or withdrew the previous year. These WERE the students who obviously did not succeed in their higher education goals. How better to determine who was at risk?
Let’s Look at the Big Picture
So I built and ran the reports putting in as many of the criteria identified in the twenty-six groups for which we had the data. I also added age and gender to see if that provided any useful insights. I admit that I was rather excited! I thought I figured out how to zero in on one of these twenty-six groups. I was going to start out our next meeting with sharing the group(s) with which we needed to first focus our efforts.
However, when I got the results I was quite surprised. One group in particular “jumped off the page” for potentially being at-risk. The first problem was that it was not one of the specific twenty-six groups identified. In our case, the attributes that were the most common denominators of students who failed or withdrew were nineteen year old males.
There in came my second problem, all twenty-six groups were represented in the population of 19-year-old males. This simple report should have been run before all the analysis. It showed us that if we wanted to truly make a difference in student success indicators, specifically completion and retention, we needed to look across the spectrum of student populations.
In essence, we learned to address a group as broad as nineteen year old males, we really needed to look at everyone. This realization was one of the major driving forces in the institution’s initiative to start taking a holistic view to student success. To address such a diverse population, we had to address our entire culture.
Let’s Look at the Bigger Picture
At CPS, we believe in the holistic approach to student success. I have discussed this in more detail in previous blogs (most recently 4 Factors to Achieve Holistic Student Success).
At the time as Dean, we moved forward with creating a holistic student success culture. We demonstrated to our administration why and how we needed to purposely examine how we were addressing the four tenants of holistic student success: institutional leadership, institutional culture, student learning, and student engagement. We discussed we must take a direct and proactive approach if we were going to truly address our institutional mission of student success.
As a result, we implemented focused efforts, starting with:
- Student success staff training programs (including institutional leadership)
- Curriculum review initiatives
- Learning style workshops
- Focused efforts with specific populations
- Student focus groups across numerous related topics
And this was just the start. Leadership took to heart taking a holistic view to how we address student success. Over time this commitment showed in increased retention and completion rates.
Student Success Should be about Everyone
The point is there is nothing wrong with focused efforts towards any of the twenty-six at-risk groups, or however many groups your school may identify. But do not forget the bigger picture. To truly address student success at an institutional level, with overall increases in success rates, there is one group that must be considered: Everyone.