The notion of Student Success and Retention is the source of innumerable discussions, initiatives, debates and general hand-wringing in contemporary higher education. But I have to wonder why there is any mystery or confusion about student success and retention at all. Higher education has been driven by education administrators employing “common-sense” cost analysis inevitably leading to depersonalized, technology-dependent “flow-through” revenue-specific processes, but completely ignoring the profound human-centered nature of teaching & learning, flourishing as it does in human connections, empathy, narrative, and intellectual intimacy. Instead, narrow financial mandates that may well be frictional with both short- and long-term academic realities are proposed and championed. No wonder that student success and retention is an issue. How could it not be?
Education administrators are in love with technologies and policies that make the educational process more “effective” and “accessible”, when it is clear their real priority lies in expanding customer base with short-term revenue-enhancing mechanisms. This is the short-game, the concessions that eventually bankrupt the academic mission.
Every bit of credible scholarly research over the past several decades indicates that a more personalized learning experience built on powerful human connections, and founded on a commitment to learning, discipline and institution result in positive predictors for student retention. This is the long game. The one that pays off.
The conversation around student success requires that we adopt a different narrative. Student comprehension of their own academic and career success may lack a meta-awareness of the means, processes and outcomes offered by their specific higher education institution, or by higher education in general. Student understanding of academic “success” can change during the course of their academic timeline, confounding the articulation of any single, “one size fits all” definition of student success.
But, we insist on defining success for our students, drawing largely from our own histories and primarily from the perspective of institutional needs, not necessarily acknowledging that the larger mission voiced by our students might be worth listening to.
For example, education administrators stress the need for a structured, step-wise progression through curricula; students however often express a desire for exploration, diversity and flexibility in their studies. Where is the balance?
It is balance that is required. An integration of student- and institutional-need. A conversation and a consensus articulating a common vision.
It is clear that, in any discussion of student success and retention in higher education, the conversation must necessarily emphasize, perhaps be dominated by, academic quality and the overall student perception of their experience, which must be understood both with sound quantitative analysis and reasoned intuition. Teaching and learning, at the heart of academic quality, is an eminently human-centered endeavor requiring empathy, connection and negotiation.
And it is there that any strategies relevant to the issue of student success and retention, and to issue of the longevity and success of the institution itself, if any are to be found, will be found.