May 29, 2015

Activities designed to support student success

UVA has the highest 4-year graduation rate of any public university.
Student success is a hot topic in higher education.  And it’s no wonder, considering that just 39 percent of first-time, full-time, degree-seeking students earned their bachelor’s degree within four years and 59 percent did so in six years, according to the most recently-available figures from NCES (National Center for Education Statistics).

But students don’t seem to be getting the message about how important it is to consider how successfully a college is able to move students through to graduation in six or fewer years.  In fact, if you ask most parents, four or fewer years is preferable. 

In its annual survey of freshmen, CIRP (Cooperative Institutional Research Program) found that less than a third of the respondents even considered graduation rate an important factor in their choice of college.  At the same time, 85 percent were quite certain they would graduate from the college they had just entered in four years. 

Yet, it’s really not happening.  And that fact is not lost on college administrators who are watching declining graduation rates and wondering how they can get a handle on the problem.

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently surveyed 300 provosts, officials in student affairs, and enrollment managers to take a close look at the practices used to promote student success.  In short, the Chronicle found that colleges and universities are experimenting with a number of new approaches to helping students succeed.
"They have hired academic coaches; put in place more intrusive advising for select groups of at-risk students; and coordinated efforts that bring together academic affairs, student affairs, and faculty members,” according to the report.
Note that many of these efforts are quietly going on behind the scenes, and seldom will a rising freshman be aware that the nice camping trip they’ve been invited to attend is a tried-and-true method of improving the likelihood that the student will actually bond with classmates and the school, thereby increasing his or her chances of graduating four years later from that same institution.

But for families that consider on-time graduation an important, if not financially necessary, element in their college search, some effort should go into reviewing and taking note of published data found using the Common Data Set, College Navigator, or

And if the numbers look a little low, ask what the college is doing to improve four-year graduation rates.  Look for solid investment in the way of staff and programs targeted to helping ensure your student will graduate on time.

Here are some of the activities “most used to promote student success,” according findings from the Chronicle’s survey of colleges:
  • Orientation
  • Academic tutoring or coaching
  • Intervention alert system
  • Writing or study skills programs
  • Degree planning
  • Professional advising
  • First-year program
  • Freshman seminars
  • Living and learning communities
  • Faculty instructional development
  • Career explorations programs
  • Summer bridge programs
  • Mentoring programs
  • Placement and assessment programs
  • Monitoring of gateway courses
  • Intrusive advising
  • Improving student awareness of key services
  • Midterm academic progress alerts
Other student success approaches colleges indicated they wanted to add include:
  • Financial distress monitoring
  • Reporting of academic progress prior to midterm
  • Debt and financial management programs
  • Unified advising records
  • Mandatory reporting of attendance
  • Tracking course management software usage
  • Mandatory notifications of grades
Many of these activities and programs are taken for granted as part of today’s college experience, but trust that they are very intentional in the goal of supporting student success.  You might want to consider carefully and possibly avoid colleges with a poor track record in this area, especially those that appear to offer little or nothing in the way of specialized programming around student success.

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