How important is it for college administrators to study successful student characteristics?
“Focusing primarily on identifying at-risk students, without also identifying the profiles of successful students, is much like a doctor diagnosing a patient with an illness or disease, yet failing to offer a treatment plan or cure. When administrators understand the characteristics of successful students, they can invest in policies, programs and services designed to maximize students’ chances of success.”
—Michael Kistner, CEO, Zogotech
“If you create a profile of successful students, you will be able to identify areas for improvement. For instance, while I was working with a community college we found that students who took a certain developmental math course in their first term were more likely to continue on and complete their degree. This information is invaluable. Being able to identify the markers of a successful student, especially those within their control, has a dramatic impact on student success and overall institutional integrity.”
—Jon MacMillan, senior data analyst, Rapid Insight
“We’ve found that students who may be tagged as ‘successful’ going into college may still stop-out or transfer to another school in a similar fashion as students who are identified as ‘at-risk.’ In either case, the school is failing to meet the expectations and needs of its students. By collecting and aggregating academic and non-academic data, a school can see the big picture of all students on campus and address the real-life issues that can affect anyone.”
—Steve Smith, president of advising and admissions, Hobsons
What advice can you offer for analyzing retention data in this more “positive” way?
“Begin with the question, ‘What does a successful student look like on my campus?’ Ask that question to everyone, including students, staff, faculty and alums. Listen for themes and use those themes to identify a profile of the ideal successful student. Once you’ve identified students who match this profile, dig into their attributes, their motivations, their characteristics that add up to achievement. Sift through the data, and then focus on the practices and attitudes that you can impact.”
—Meghan Turjanica, student success expert, Jenzabar
“No discussion of creating ‘profiles of successful students’ is complete without examining the negative effects of potential exclusionary policies and procedures that may flow from this new ‘intelligence.’ Imagine applicants rejected because the data model suggests they come from an ‘at-risk’ zip code. ‘Late bloomers’ [may be] excluded before they even have a chance to demonstrate their potential. All students can be ‘successful.’ It is higher ed’s challenge to determine where and how each student can succeed.”
—Ed Clougherty, vice president, Copley Systems