Moving the needle on student success metrics by changing faculty incentives


Moving the needle on student success metrics by changing faculty incentives

Rewarding advising and student mentoring

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Lynne E. Ford

Lynne E. Ford

Professor of political science and currently serves as Associate Vice President for the Academic Experience at the College of Charleston. In this role she leads eight academic student support units that provide more than a dozen programs promoting student success, retention, and degree attainment.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EAB.

More than forty years of research tells us that faculty-student relationships are essential to student success, but in the absence of intentional policies we cannot assume that every student will benefit. The Gallup-Purdue Index (2014) found that graduates who had a professor who cared about them as a person, made them excited about learning, and encouraged them to pursue their dreams were significantly more likely to be engaged at work and thrive personally. Similarly, graduates with several significant relationships with faculty were three times more likely than other graduates to rate their college experience as “highly rewarding” (Elon University Poll, 2019).

At my institution, our new strategic plan prioritizes the student experience and aims to increase retention from 80% to 87% in five years. Retention rates have been relatively flat in the last decade, varying by only a point or two. A recent campus audit found many retention “best practices” already in place, begging the question of what other resources might be leveraged to positively impact student success and increase retention. I believe the answer lies in changing institutional policy to value, incentivize, and reward faculty advising and student mentoring.

My capstone project therefore focuses on engaging faculty in advising and student mentoring to improve student outcomes—a positive student experience, retention, persistence, and graduation. Currently, faculty advising is only mentioned twice in the Tenure and Promotion standards (as an extension of teaching) and student mentoring is not included anywhere. I propose a three-pronged solution: 1) information, 2) expectations, and 3) rewards.

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  • Increase knowledge and confidence
  • Collaboration between professional and faculty advisors
  • Raise visibility of faculty advising on campus
  • Shift campus culture ahead of student success CRM
  • Define and distinguish between Advising & Mentoring
  • Refine expectations by department/discipline
  • Include Advising and Student Mentoring in position descriptions and job ads
  • Faculty Senate ad hoc committee created
  • 4th category solution under development
  • Adjust post-tenure, annual evaluation, and merit review criteria and rewards
  • Create campus-wide Distinguished Student Mentoring Award

Many faculty are already engaged in building meaningful relationships with students as advisors and mentors, but too often this work is invisible in the professional standards and reward structures of the university. This project aims to remove the element of chance for students by institutionalizing the value of faculty-student relationships by clarifying faculty roles and expectations and revising critical professional milestones and rewards.

My project was informed by several EAB research reports on engaging faculty in student success as well as new book by Peter Felton and Leo Lambert, Relationship Rich Education: How Human Connections Drive Success in College (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2020). My capstone buddy, Kevin Gravina, from the Colorado School of Mines offered critical feedback as did others in this inaugural cohort of EAB Fellows.

See the fellows' blogs from the capstone projects

Amy Capolupo and others participated in the Spring 2021 EAB’s Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship

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