From the Director: What do we mean by “Student Success”?

November 2, 2016

By: Dr. Ann Johnson, Director of the Center for Faculty Development and Professor of Psychology and Dr. Wendy Wyatt, Associate Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies and Professor, Department of Communication and Journalism.

What do we mean by “Student Success”?

Wendy Wyatt and Ann JohnsonThis phrase seems to be everywhere in higher ed these days, but what does it mean? Typically, it refers to programs that focus on enhancing retention and completion of degrees – metrics that are of increasing value as colleges and universities face scrutiny about effectiveness (especially related to tuition costs).

But for committed educators, this definition is somewhat lacking in soulfulness. The American Association of Colleges and Universities comes closer to a definition that fits our own St. Thomas mission and orientation; their work on student success is “rooted in long-standing commitments to diversity, equity, and quality of learning” and inspired by “the promise of truly democratic liberal education.”

This inspiration for student success parallels what we’re working to create through a new St. Thomas center that serves both as a physical and virtual space for students who are exploring, seeking support, and looking for opportunities that will enrich their academic experience.1 St. Thomas has much to offer our students, and through this yet-to-be-named center, we want to ensure that all of our students get connected to those resources and programs. . We also recognize that student success is about the whole student and all of the experiences—inside and outside the classroom—our students have, so the initiative is, importantly, a collaboration between Academic and Student Affairs.

With the help of partners across campus, the center aims to offer students assistance with major and career discernment; academic counseling, coaching and support; tutoring; skills in information, research, and technology literacies; connections with experiential learning and undergraduate research opportunities; and assistance with post-graduation planning. Retention initiatives, led by a new director of retention and student success, will also be housed in the center. 

The center is certainly about retention and completion, but it’s about much more than that, which is one of the reasons we have resisted simply calling it the “success center.” (Suggestions for a name are most welcome.) The impulse behind the center is a truly democratic one: that all of our students get connected with all we offer.

Faculty involvement is crucial, and one way Faculty Development will be supporting the faculty role in student success efforts is by offering workshops like our upcoming Dec. 2 “Transparency and Equity in the Classroom” opportunity led by Dr. Mary-Ann Winkelmes from the University Nevada. Dr. Winkelmes heads up a nation-wide research project demonstrating the effectiveness of a fairly simple teaching intervention – transparency – for impacting the success of first generation and under-represented students. Part of our Inclusive Classroom Institute and Course Design for the Common Good series, Winkelmes' upcoming workshop reminds us that we can design our courses with the common good in mind and promote student success at the same time.

Through integrated university-wide efforts, we can come closer to our goal of engaging all our students, supporting their academic excellence, well-being, and sense of belonging within our classrooms and throughout the community.

1 See Corrine Carvalho's Newsroom article Flexible Pathways "More Than Just the Two-year College" for additional information.