Sep 242019


New research reveals the rate at which student success initiatives benefit students, particularly minority groups

Student success initiatives may not have as much impact as intended–a new study shows that just 60 percent of student success initiatives have a positive impact on student persistence, with 40 percent having either no impact or a negative impact.

An analysis of about 1,000 student success initiatives at more than 55 colleges and universities, conducted by Civitas Learning, notes that while institutions invest millions into helping improve student outcomes, they rarely have rigorous measurements of what, if anything, actually drives improvements.

Related content: 10 ways to use analytics to increase student success

“Today, however, many student services are based on confidence in an existing program or the implementation of a standard best practice, rather than the data-informed personalization of student experience,” according to the report. “Not surprisingly, this results in only 60 percent of student interventions demonstrating a measurable positive impact on student success overall.”

Insight gleaned from the report is intended to help higher-ed leaders close that measurement gap and pinpoint what does and doesn’t work when it comes to building student success initiatives that truly benefit students.

The top five student success initiatives that produce the greatest positive impact on student persistence, according to the research, are adviser meetings (5.80 percent increase), Greek life (3.79 percent increase), supplemental instruction (3.43 percent increase), scholarships (3.24 percent increase), and tutoring (3.02 percent increase).

The research also indicates that differentiated support targeted to certain student sub-groups could have the biggest impact on student success.

Graduation rates have remained fairly consistent over the past decade, but outcomes have varied greatly by student group. When six-year outcomes are broken down by race and ethnicity, the achievement gap between certain demographics is very apparent, according to the report.

Completion outcomes are particularly low for black men, and notably high for Asian women, with black men graduating in 6 years just 34.9 percent of the time and Asian women 73.6 percent of the time.

Another growing group needing support is students who are the first in their family to attend college. According to NASPA, only 27 percent of these “first in family” students will attain a degree within 4 years.

Differences in educational attainment across race and ethnicity suggests that a disproportionate number of “first in family” students will continue to come from black and Hispanic populations. Interestingly, these are the same populations projected to increase in enrollment numbers over the next decade.

This means that the same students who are already historically underrepresented in higher education are both more likely to be “first in family” and are projected to increase in enrollment.

“In acknowledging the continued evolution of the typical student body as well as the potentially specific overlaps in ways students may need support, it becomes clear that institutions must adopt sophisticated personalization of student messaging, student support services, and academic programming,” according to the report.

When it comes to supporting minority students, personalized support seems to be key.

The data shows that the best five student success initiatives in terms of positive impact on black student persistence are: adviser meetings (4.94 percent increase), tutoring (3.97 percent increase), supplemental instruction (3.79 percent increase), first year seminars (3.64 percent increase), and career planning (3.64 percent increase).

Hispanic students also succeed with personalized academic support. Hispanic students benefit from a similar mix of personalized academic support as black students. The student success programs that most successfully boost Hispanic student persistence are: adviser meetings (6.96 percent increase), tutoring (4.50 percent increase), first year seminars (2.89 percent increase), and supplemental instruction (2.18 percent increase).

Offering financial support along with academic support also goes a long way in creating a beneficial student success initiative. First-term students particularly benefit from student support initiatives that provide academic or financial support. Adviser meetings (7.07 percent increase), supplemental instruction (6.06 percent increase), tutoring (5.20 percent increase), scholarships (5.03 percent increase), and developmental education courses (3.08 percent increase) were found to increase persistence the most during the first year.