Academics and university administrators answered questions about how student success is measured, delivered and challenged.
The 295 respondents represent a range of leaders and administrators: 52% from the UK, 17% from mainland Europe and 31% from the rest of the world.
To complement the European launch of Salesforce’s Advisor Link — a bespoke solution designed to give advisors and tutors the tools they need to collaborate more efficiently, understand students more deeply and build stronger journeys through graduation — Times Higher Education and Salesforce.org conducted a survey that gained insights from almost 300 higher education professionals. It revealed trends such as the most important factors in delivering student success and the challenges affecting its delivery.
Factors Constituting Student Success Strategies
Student employability, completion and satisfaction were the top three priorities identified for student success programmes. In the UK, this correlates with Teaching Excellence Framework criteria such as student satisfaction, retention and graduate employment.
Student diversity and inclusion and student well-being were ranked lower than student retention and student engagement, despite a likely causal link between them. These priorities may be diminished by other challenges, such as staff shortages, increased student numbers and/or a lack of funding.
Although the majority of the respondents was aligned around these factors constituting student success strategies, 43% of respondents said that their university has no clear strategy for student success or that they don’t know about one. This may reflect problems in communicating that strategy rather than the absence of one.
Principals, deans and vice-chancellors were identified as defining student success programmes in 63% of cases. Questions may be asked about whether a more collaborative approach yields greater awareness and results – and if such an approach can refine the “living documents” that often constitute the guidelines for student success programmes.
Regardless of their structure, student success programmes must also aim to clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the parties involved. As one respondent put it: “Success can only come through a sense of shared responsibility between faculty, administrators and students themselves.”
The Market Dynamics Affecting Student Success
Multiple drivers for student success programmes were identified as contributing on a fairly equal basis: student expectations, government policies and industry demand. Student demographic was the lowest-ranked driver, which arguably correlates with diversity and inclusion being ranked lower than other criteria in what contributes to student success programmes. Alternatively, it may signify that the “non-traditional student” no longer exists and that universities now regard students as a diverse group of individuals.
One respondent remarked that student success strategies should take a “person-centered approach, avoid ‘dehumanising’ through a data-only driven approach and reward staff who facilitate the big success stories”.
The top-ranked barriers to improving student success were financial resources, staff resources and competing priorities across the university. Administrative silos, IT infrastructure and change management were also identified as barriers. An overlap between these different areas is likely and may vary depending on a university’s location, size, age and reputation.
The challenge that universities face to achieve their student success goals with limited resources and system integration emphasises the importance of economy of scale in higher education.
Student Data, Staff Collaboration, Technology: What We Learned
Student support was identified as the most challenging metric to track, despite the fact that it and student engagement were identified as the most-tracked activities. This suggests that the monitoring process for student support could be refined to better serve the processes of student success programmes where this is the case.
The majority of respondents (32%) said that it was “somewhat difficult” to access and report on student success data.
More than 60% of respondents find student information by asking colleagues, browsing spreadsheets or other electronic documents, but 37% found sharing and collaborating on student data “difficult” or “very difficult”.
The predominant academic advising model was a hybrid model of a centralised advising department and student-initiated contact (44%). A centralised advising department with proactive student outreach was the next most-common (29%). This suggests that while infrastructure exists, challenges may be created or exacerbated by the way in which advising is managed.
Recommendations for Improvements
- The need for a shared road map
More than 75% of respondents could not identify a technology road map for student success. As with identifying student success programmes, this may be a problem in how something is communicated, rather than the problem of it not being in place.
- Deeper integration between systems
Forty percent of respondents think that deeper integration between multiple systems will improve team collaboration and efficiency. “Systems (IT, academic and support) don’t talk to or inform one another,” said one respondent.
- A hybrid platform
The need for a single CRM platform with wide-ranging functionality appears to be the best tool to help both staff and students.
To help improve student success, 62% of respondents recommended a learning management system, 60% recommended student advising solutions and 59 recommended analytics tools for business intelligence. This arguably identifies the limitations of certain LMSs to deliver student success. “End-to-end CRM,” was the recommendation of one respondent, while another cited the need for “bringing together all touch points in a single, user-friendly interface that is easily accessible.”
Do you want to learn more about building a successful student success strategy at your institution? Watch The Future of Student Success and Advising webinar where we’ll discuss some of the key building blocks of student success and how universities can introduce them.