Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome can feel a bit maddening, can’t it? Sometimes, student success work can feel like we’re running in a hamster wheel, doing as much as we can as fast as we can — because it’s the right thing to do. But, it’s exhausting and frustrating when the results don’t match the effort poured into it.
Since 2007, spending per student has dropped 25%. And, six-year graduation rates have stagnated for decades (with a very slight uptick of about 2% only recently). Even though graduation rates have stayed about the same for two decades, colleges and universities continue to apply similar strategies to support their students. The well-intended initiatives that historically served students stick around, yet student persistence and graduation rates are stuck.
74% of today’s college students are non-traditional, yet many of our student success programs and initiatives were designed long ago to serve more traditional students. The same strategies are serving the same traditional students and producing flat results. As funding and student diversity continue to change, we need to make sure that we’re fine-tuning and adjusting our approach to supporting students, as well. The reality is that doing more of the same is no longer doing enough. So, we took a closer look at the cost of maintaining the status quo. Here’s what we learned:
- Improved outcomes are possible, but program evaluation cannot be binary.
Recent research on student success programs uncovered that 60% what colleges and universities are doing today had a positive overall impact on student success — to the tune of a nearly three percentage point lift in student persistence. And for the 40% of initiatives that didn’t deliver improved outcomes overall, 15% of participating students still saw a benefit from the seemingly ineffective initiatives. It’s not enough to know whether or not a program is working, because the reality is that different initiatives are supporting students in different ways. It’s critical to know what works for whom.
- Advising, when done well, is the most powerful opportunity to improve outcomes.
We looked specifically at which initiatives work best for students today. Unsurprisingly – but hopefully validating – for advisors and student success coaches, advising programs result in a 5.50 percentage point increase in a student’s likelihood to return. Also at the top of the list? Club involvement (4.35 percentage point increase) and writing centers (4.02 percentage point increase).
- The clarity you’ve been waiting for is here.
What would you do differently if you knew precisely — and quickly — what student success programs worked for which students? Would you cancel or sunset programs? Probably not. But perhaps you could refine them to make sure they were delivering the most value to the students who benefited the most. And, you could fine-tune your outreach strategies to make sure the students who needed to hear about the resources or programs receive the message early and often. It would also mean that you had additional confidence in giving personalized recommendations, coordinating care, and taking informed action to better support students.