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  • Writer's pictureDave Taylor

What is Student Success?

'Student success’ is a frequently used term within college academic environments as a mantra for the promotion of institutional policies, curriculum development, and instructional designs. A true understanding by all stakeholders of what ‘student success’ is should be at the heart of all college operations and decision-making.

How should we actually measure student success? Is it helping students to achieve high academic achievement and top grades? Most academics focus on the delivery of course content and then grade student performance on evaluation instruments designed to assess their grasp and understanding of the required course outcomes within their area of responsibility. In many cases the course evaluations are conducted in isolation within siloed course designs as distinct program components, and students are left to navigate the synergy of the overall program outcome puzzle pieces… which will be required when they are faced with practical applications and the integration of acquired skills and knowledge within their career environment.

While academic marks are typically used as a general benchmark for student success, the reality is that the purpose of a practical college education is to acquire the skills, knowledge, and confidence to secure a meaningful and rewarding career. I would challenge you to find employers who ask an applicant what their final grade was in their term two Math course. Students who possess the ability to excel on formal academic evaluations, but when they walk into a room full of potential employers have difficulty looking up from their phone, or are unable to initiate and carry on a meaningful face to face conversation, will be hard-pressed to impress and satisfy those who may be a pathway to their desired career. The ability to transfer their college learning experience to successful career applications will be the true measure of a college graduate’s success.

The inclusion of experiential and work integrated learning into programs of study, such as cooperative education, practicums, internships, and practical program capstone projects allow students to prepare for the real applications they will face when they enter the world of work.

The many Program Advisory Committees, made up of membership from community and industry representatives that I have had the pleasure of interacting with, have overwhelmingly agreed that they want a graduate who has a deeper grasp of the soft skills and a solid work ethic, in addition to the entry-level vocational knowledge for their area of study. (ie: time management, reliability, creativity, critical thinking, communication, problem-solving, knowing when to lead and when to follow, multi-tasking, perseverance, listening skills, observational skills, teamwork, persuasion, and intercultural competence.)

Of course, academic achievement as a student within a program of study is an important building block toward graduate success, but there are many other measurements and elements that will support launching a college graduate into a successful career. We could get into the many types of learning styles there are, and the fact that many students would experience greater academic achievements and build stronger personal confidence if allowed to employ more creativity and abstract learning modalities consistent with their personal learning style to demonstrate required course performance outcomes… but that is a topic for another blog.

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