How can we define student success? This is perhaps one of the most utilized phrases in higher education that scholars, practitioners, and the public and private sectors utilize to refer to an array of student outcomes. Traditionally, student success has referred to measurable outcomes, such as retention and graduation rates, mastering of academic content, and students’ employability after graduation. While these outcomes can inform practice and policies in higher education, it provides a limited scope to how different stakeholders perceive student success.
We had the opportunity to explore the definition of student success with the data collected as part of the Supporting Student Success research project. We asked 365 participants, who included senior administrators, faculty, staff, and students, to define what student success meant to them.
The results were fascinating and we recently presented the findings at the CSSHE conference in Victoria, BC. Student success was described as multi-layered and multifaceted. Overall, there were 18 different definitions of student success. These definitions could be grouped into two main domains: Academic Success and Personal Success. The first domain, Academic Success, included definitions related to retention and graduation, mastering academic content, G.P.A., and finding a good program fit. The second domain, Personal Success, included definitions that highlighted the importance of making meaningful connections, realizing your limitations and your strengths, and taking risks.
While each of the four groups differed in how they primarily perceived student success (e.g. faculty and senior administrators described it primarily as retention and graduation, and staff and students as personal success) there was a consensus that student success varied by student and their desired goals. Our findings indicate that defining student success cannot be limited to traditional and measurable outcomes. Student success needs to be explored and defined by examining the needs and goals of individual students if we are to support them and encourage them in a meaningful way.
We want to pose two questions:
How does your institution define student success?
How do you define student success?