What does student success really mean? It depends on who you ask.

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What does student success really mean? It depends on who you ask.

As another semester draws to a close, advisors can expect an influx of students inquiring about upcoming exams, new course schedules, and how to prepare for a successful transition from the classroom to the workplace—all topics related to student success.

But students and administrators don’t always agree on what success looks like—and this disconnect can prevent advisors from supporting students in the way they need to be supported.

While administrators tend to center student success around degree completion, students often want much more than a degree from their college experience, says Karen Stout, president and CEO of Achieving the Dream, a non-profit focused on community college student success.

“For students, success consists not just of good grades and steady progress toward graduation, but a holistic sense of fulfillment,” according to interviews with more than 200 students by EAB‘s Student Success Collaborative. “They want to become strong candidates for careers in their chosen fields, emerge as competent and trustworthy adults, look back on their time without regrets, and make their mentors and family members proud.”

“For students, success consists not just of good grades and steady progress toward graduation, but a holistic sense of fulfillment.”

Annie Yi, Associate Director of Product Marketing at EAB

For instance, many students enter college with the goal of developing skills for a successful career, adds Stout. For Amanda Rodriguez, a recent graduate of the University of Houston, college was about building the foundation to accomplish her life goals. Other students define success as the “ability to get to class every day,” says Stout.

And for community college transfer students, for example, achieving professional and academic goals can mean overcoming serious obstacles. For instance, community college transfer students often lose time and money earning course credits that aren’t valid at their four-year college—and these challenges can fuel student attrition.

What this means for advisors

Because every student defines success differently, advisors need to engage in conversations that “span beyond just building a schedule,” argues Stout.

For instance, for first-year students at both two- and four-year institutions, advisors need to outline an academic, financial, and career plan, Stout adds. Advisors should support first-year students as they build an academic schedule, estimate their program costs, and explore potential professional fields.

But advisors must also strike a balance to ensure students find purpose and fulfillment, writes Annie Yi in a student success blog post. After all, several students’ “goals in life include another dimension—beyond well-paying jobs, [students] seek purpose by serving others,” she adds.

Similarly, in their interviews with EAB, students suggested that they want advisors and faculty to support them in cultivating grit and a growth mindset, striking a healthy balance between academic effort and other areas of life, seeking enriching experiences, and earning the respect of others.

In other words, to create effective student success resources, administrators need to keep student voices at the center, says Stout. Colleges and universities have to design systems that “support students in the way [they] want to be supported,” she explains.

Sources: Nazerian, EdSurge, 3/28/18; Yi, EAB, 2/8/17

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