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How To Create a Wraparound Approach To Student Success

By June 21, 2022

What do playing fields have to do with student success? I promise it’s not a trick question, but it is an important one. As the definition of student success has evolved from not only academic goals and progress towards graduation to a holistic sense of fulfillment, it is increasingly important to level the playing field for all students. This means ensuring every student has a fair and equal chance of succeeding.

Student persistence, retention, and completion rates need to improve, and there’s no shortage of advice and literature on what works. Yet, it is surprising that rates have only slowly improved. Two reasons may explain it — the first concerns data, and the second is the connection, or lack thereof — between services and support, and the students who need it.

I recently had the pleasure of talking to my colleague, Tom Green, Ph.D., a higher education industry advisor at Salesforce about his new e-book, Connecting the Dots and Data to Improve Student Success. In this interview, Tom shares the current state of student success, the models and frameworks needed to organize student data, and how to connect the data and services in a wraparound approach to student success.

Discover how to use data to improve student persistence, retention, and completion.

Navneet Johal (NJ): Each institution defines student success differently and there are several metrics. What is your definition, and what is the current state of student success?

Tom Green (TG): Student success is the institution doing everything within its power to enable students to reach their own academic and personal goals through the educational experience. It sounds simple, but it is actually very complicated. There will be differences between the experience and success of students at two-year versus four-year institutions, and understanding the student perspective is so important.

While there have been slight gains in recent years, only half of students who complete degrees do so at the institution at which they start. Mobility studies have helped us understand that many students eventually complete degrees at other institutions, raising completion to about 62% overall. Student departure remains an enigma for most institution leaders, as they seek to identify and remedy the causes of attrition.

NJ: While there have been slight gains in recent years, what will it take to truly move the needle on student persistence and retention rates?

TG: That stagnation we see is mirrored with some progress. There has been a lot of focus and efforts on improving student success from the work of Betsy Barefoot to the Center for First-Generation Student Success and more, which has brought us to a certain point of success. The question now is how do we move that needle further? We still have some intractable gaps where the chances of those from under-represented minorities gaining a degree is far too low. These are personas for what is not working in student success.  

While some institutions have figured out systemic issues such as financial aid, advising, etc., they are now stuck at a level of persistence that they can’t seem to move. Institutions need to understand what motivates each student and what they are seeking from their student experience. For the institutions that have been successful in moving the needle on persistence, they now need to be more thoughtful about looking at individual students in real-time to ensure they do not fall through the cracks and continue to be fulfilled and successful.

NJ: Can you tell us more about your research and the new e-book?

TG: Retention is seen as everyone’s job, but that in itself is disorganized because there is a lot of activity that is not coordinated or organized. Lots of stakeholders are important to the outcome, but there is a lack of consensus and no overarching framework that helps them to understand what they are working towards. While there are many models from which to choose, one of the most cited is Tinto’s Theory of Student Departure. I included this model in the e-book because it tracks the student lifecycle in a manner that identifies areas where both student and college characteristics can impact the ongoing decision to stay in or leave a college educational program. 

From there, the e-book breaks down how to create a framework of leading and lagging indicators of student success, guidance on how to identify and address the gaps, and then how to connect the dots and the data.

NJ: What recommendations or actions do you have for student success leaders after reading this e-book?

TG: By using models and frameworks, institutions will have the data that shows that something needs to happen and so the question is who is going to do it? So my first recommendation is to set up a care team. This could include, but isn’t limited to, someone from advising, health services, counseling, financial aid, etc. 

Secondly, I would recommend having a unified data set. This means investing in the ability to join multiple data sources together to have a 360-degree view of students. I’d also say don’t boil the ocean, but start and grow. 

Lastly, identify where you have data and where you don’t, and create a plan for how you’re going to collect the data you don’t have through surveys for example. The goal is to connect the blind spots of the student experience, to ensure every student gets what they need, when they need it.

Navneet Johal, Director, Industry Marketing - Higher Education · Salesforce

About the Author

Navneet Johal
Director, Industry Marketing – Higher Education · Salesforce

Navneet Johal is the director of industry marketing for higher education at Prior to joining Salesforce, Navneet was a solution director for higher education and research at SAP, and a senior analyst at Ovum, where she led research on the use of technology in higher education. Navneet’s passion for education and technology began when she was teaching in the further education sector in the U.K. for several years before moving to the U.S.