Considering the Holistic Student Experience: Strategies for Facilitating Student Success

The importance of non-academic factors

From early alert programs to degree paths, current student success initiatives often focus solely on academics. But many students leave without completing their degrees due to issues outside of academics. Any institution’s approach to student success must be inclusive of both academic and non-academic issues.

This web seminar outlined what can be missed when student success efforts are focused solely on academic performance and explored how to take a more holistic approach to student success. Presenters described systems, shared data and highlighted examples while outlining some practical strategies for taking a comprehensive and holistic approach to student success.


Sherry Woosley, Ph.D.

Director of Analytics and Research


Eric W. Scott

Assistant Director, Sophomore Year Experience

Central Washington University

Sherry Woosley: Students experience our campuses as a whole, even though we tend to think of our campuses in pieces such as departments and divisions. Throughout this conversation, and the conversations we will continue to have in the future with others, we should begin to think about our approach to retention and student success from that same holistic picture.

Of course, there’s something attractive about singular, simple solutions. For instance, it takes far less effort to accrue buy-in or to coordinate outreach when you’re working within a siloed department. But, at the end of the day, picking a solution that’s narrow comes at a cost when planning in a broader, campuswide context.

Consider how often we have experienced localized or isolated interventions, either by individual people, departments or units: a student government advisor develops strong connections with her student staff, so she becomes responsible for taking action related to that group of students. Or an athletic department takes the initiative to reach out to student athletes who aren’t yet registered for the next semester. We tend to fall into isolated interventions because we believe we can take action more quickly when we don’t have to convince others to get on board or to pay attention—therefore making an immediate difference. But the downside to these types of initiatives is also what we feel is their strength—isolation expedites certain interventions, but can create chaos on a campus more broadly as it duplicates its efforts or sends conflicting messages. What happens when these units themselves are isolated and dealing with the same student, but maybe on different issues? Confusion arises across campus, in particular for the student.

This issue brings us back to the notion that students experience campus as a whole, and we should begin doing so too. If we consider the student experience holistically across these silos and divides, we ideally become more efficient and more effective because we better see these issues as interconnected.

When taking a holistic approach to student success, we understand that not only do students have a wide range of issues, but that those issues often overlap. We need to think about retention and success in a more nuanced way, and we need to think about our students as a little more complicated. We need to consider these individual characteristics in students within the bigger picture of who they are, where they’re succeeding, and where they’re struggling. In essence, we need to see past any single red flag, right to the hand that’s holding it; there’s a chance they may be holding more.

So, how do we put together strategies that go beyond isolated interventions? How do we build programs in a way that prevents creating gaps or overlaps? How do we move our student success efforts into a broader plan that organizes and coordinates our programs and our interventions across campus?

When we created Mapworks, we focused our efforts on a holistic approach designed to meet campuses where they are. We built a platform that can intuitively coordinate planning among different people across various departments and functional areas, all in one system. We’re protecting student privacy, but allowing different people who interact with students to work together, to help either an individual student or groups of students. This holistic approach allows a campus to understand what’s happening at every level so that they can plan interventions that work smarter, not harder.

Eric Scott: Central Washington University has been using Mapworks for the last 10 years. About four years ago, we had a wakeup call when we realized that if we’re looking at student success holistically, we have to look not just at the first-year transition, but also longitudinally across the duration of a student’s experience.

There are multiple ways that we gather data. We rely significantly on Mapworks to gather and house data related to our efforts. We have buy-in from the entire Student Success Division, which falls under the provost. We have a first-year seminar requirement, a first-year live-on-campus requirement, and new student programs with an orientation and a welcome weekend requirement. We have multiple touch points where we’re going to see students throughout their first six weeks. In particular, however, we wanted to make sure that those multiple touch points were coordinated in order to deliver timely and relevant messages. That coordination also includes collecting data in Mapworks so we can intervene with students during their transition.

Given the prevalence of survey fatigue, we as a university are committed to not saturating students with surveys. We reward and recognize student involvement in one survey of about 150 questions, which we administer in the fall. We receive about an 85 percent response rate from our first-year students and transfer students—an outstanding response.

Our instructors are committed to requiring goal-setting and improvement from our students, so it’s not enough to just take the survey. Students get a four- to six-page report that gives them their top areas to make improvements to see the most results—things like basic study behaviors, basic class attendance behaviors, financial need. Then they do goal-setting during their University 101 course to discuss the steps they’re going to take. It puts the burden back on the students, and it keeps us from having to reach out to all of the students who take Mapworks. This approach also empowers our students to make their own decisions.

My graduate students and I look at the trends and issues that we can follow up with. That way, individual departments are not responding individually, and they’re also not requesting or collecting the information on their own. Instead, they’re part of this broader strategy.

The next step of our assessment plan is the introduction of a specific app focused on fostering student engagement in myriad ways. It gives us the opportunity to track attendance at individual events, as well as students’ perceptions from their first three weeks, along with the behaviors that we see. Now, students have a space to record their experiences. We’re also looking at how to change our “Traditions Keeper” book from paper-based into a mobile-based app through the same technology.

Central Washington University is committed to a holistic approach to student success. It’s taking one department and one assessment and then getting multiple departments to work within it to combine and coordinate our resources. And, most importantly, it’s working.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, visit


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