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How Higher Ed CIOs Can Support Student Success Initiatives

How Higher Ed CIOs Can Support Student Success Initiatives

People and processes should be at the center of any student success effort. Here’s how IT leaders can help steer technology decisions, implement culture change and move the needle on mission-driven goals.

Although many higher education institutions have for years sought to improve student success (increasingly known as “student experience”), the visible struggle of many students during COVID-19 renewed the urgency around institutions getting it right — right now.

More schools are professionalizing advising, creating new student success divisions and restructuring student and academic affairs to streamline oversight and operations related to the student experience.

Additionally, investments in software for tracking student analytics, campus engagement and student success are on the rise.

Yet student success initiatives are challenging to pull off because they require institutions to collaborate across traditional silos, practice good data governance and implement culture change at multiple levels.

And while it’s easy to overlook these things and get caught up in shiny new student success technology, efforts will ultimately fall short if institutions ignore the hard work of personal and operational change.

It’s not unusual for campus CIOs to be invited late to the student success conversation, just in time to discuss technology needs and implementation.

Nevertheless, IT leaders must slow the institutional roll just long enough to ask the following challenge questions:

Successful initiatives begin with a thoughtful exploration and a clear definition of student success at the institution.

Traditionally, student success centered on metrics like student retention, graduation, degree completion times and postgraduation outcomes (if an institution was lucky enough to have the data).

However, forward-thinking institutions are taking a more holistic view of success, including social, academic, professional and personal wellness variables.

They monitor how well students do the following:

Holistic definitions of student success encourage advisers, faculty and support staff to be proactive and attend to all variables known to impact retention and degree completion without waiting for high-risk academic scenarios (e.g., academic probation, conduct concerns, leave of absences) to occur.

They also allow institutions to put their mission-driven spin on student success.

Every institution reports its retention and graduation rates, but a school that prides itself on service learning, study abroad or other high-impact practices will want to optimize its programming and tell those stories, too.

The holistic nature of student success and the change management associated with these initiatives require early buy-in across the institution.

Representation varies depending on the institution’s structure, but it typically includes academic affairs, student affairs, the registrar, institutional research and information technology, along with input from financial aid, career services, admissions and high-impact learning centers.

Institutions will also want to consider when to bring student leaders to the table to provide input on definitions for success, current systems gaps, privacy protections and proposed solutions.

Student success technologies are complicated and include diversified and overlapping functionality.

Campus leaders can become easily distracted and confused when they do not have a clear understanding of the best practices they are trying to facilitate with technology.

Therefore, it is essential to identify which student success strategies and people-driven processes fit the institution’s goals and gaps before shopping for technology solutions.

Modern approaches to student success focus on student navigation through the institution, reducing frustration and opportunities for them to fall through the cracks.

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