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Which Student Success Initiatives Help Students Most?

Blog Scaling Student Success

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A complicated question — and a quick answer. It depends.

We all know this — yet, we keep looking for the silver bullet to solve our student success challenges. The reality is — there is no one thing that ensures learning or improved outcomes for all students. There are lots of things that help — some more than others, but evidence shows that the impact of those initiatives varies by institution, campus, and student population. As Mark Milliron said in a conversation with EdSurge, it’s a recipe.

In our recent report, we reviewed data on student success initiatives across dozens of institutions. Essentially, it was a review of questions our community of practice was asking, including — Does my supplemental instruction program work? What impact does our writing center have? What effect does club involvement have on our students? They wanted to know what was working best for students on their campus. Additionally, it was an opportunity for us to take a closer look at what was working overall.


The right student initiatives can dramatically improve retention and graduation rates and unlock additional performance-based funding.


Here’s what we know:

1. This isn’t about cutting programs or initiatives.

Yes, as Campus Technology pointed out, 40 percent of programs aren’t having an impact on student persistence. That doesn’t mean we should all find 40 percent of our programs to cut. Because what works overall for students is very different than knowing what works for your students. To take that a step further — 15 percent of the analyzed student segments within that actually did experience better outcomes. Measurement is important — but it’s hard to do at scale in higher ed, and even harder to do in a timely fashion. We all need that information to help students before it’s too late. So, the sooner you know what your students need, the sooner you can deploy those resources to help your students.

2. Initiative success isn’t binary.

It’s not black and white, and this report shouldn’t be used to define new “best practices”. A one-size-fits-all approach should be used with caution. It’s about finding a hidden opportunity, low-hanging fruit, or a new lever to improve outcomes for your students at your college or university. It’s about having confidence in what works for your students — and delivering that support at the right time. It’s scaling what is working well and then honing the programs that promise an outsized impact for certain students. It’s finding a faster path to improved equity, unlocking performance plateaus, and personalizing education at scale for today’s students.

3. Advising really works.

Here’s the good news — advising, when instrumented well, is consistently the most powerful program to improve student persistence. It improves persistence by 5.8 percentage points. The impact varies for different student population as reported by Inside Higher Ed, and, there’s an even deeper impact for students during their first three semesters of higher ed. However, evidence shows that 47 percent of advising programs aren’t improving student success. We need to take a closer look at the impact of advising and what different institutions are doing with new intelligence on their advising programs.

4. Your work is having an impact.

When the University of Central Oklahoma studied the impact of their Student Transformative Learning Record, they found that it delivered a 12-15 percentage point lift in persistence overall. This helped them confidently report on and scale the grant-funded program — and now, other schools across the country are doing the same.

Education Dive spoke with Civitas Learning institutions — Utah State University and the University of South Florida — to learn about what’s working for them and, perhaps more importantly, what is changing as they come across these findings. Other examples include The University of Missouri – Kansas City where supplemental instruction was found to lift persistence by 7.8 percentage point lift for students who attend 3 or more times — equivalent to $600K ROI. Austin Community College studied the impact of their ACCelerator program, which bolsters persistence for their students to the tune of 3 percentage points, with a 4X increase for DevEd students.

The list of what’s known to work goes on across our community of practice. Because of that information, higher ed leaders are able to make more informed decisions about how to serve the increasingly diverse needs of students at their campus.

What does this mean for your students?

Let’s connect. Or, download the full report here.


The right student initiatives can dramatically improve retention and graduation rates and unlock additional performance-based funding.


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