Student services professionals often fall into a trap. They see the pain points they’d like to improve upon, and develop some focused practices to try and improve in that area. They then evaluate their success based on how well they executed those practices, rather than gathering a holistic understanding of how well students are doing.
Of course, in order to take this more holistic approach, some clarity around what “health” means for students is necessary. It’s inevitable that people who work with students develop a sense of the overall “health” of a student’s educational journey, but often, these impressions are intuitive or experiential.
The more student groups or institutions one works with, the more complex the picture of a “healthy” student gets. Whether or not your institution has formal plans and measures of student success, developing a shared vocabulary for how to speak about student success across departments and schools is a huge asset as you continue to collaborate to serve students.
Drawing from academic research and experiences of both our customers and staff who have served students directly, we’ve distilled five major categories for measuring a student’s health across their student journey.
These categories are broad by design, so they can apply to students beyond the specifics of educational programs, student types or other individual characteristics. They’re also flexible, so they can adapt to the types of tools and staffing already at your institution’s disposal.
The five categories are:
- Academic Progress
- Financial Health
- Social Well-Being
- Grit & Self-Efficacy
- Growth & Opportunities
It is important to note that these are not entirely “objective” measures; the students’ perception of their own health in these categories is as important (if not more so!) as any external measure that can be conducted.
Whether a student is making “satisfactory academic progress” is often one of the primary measures considered by student success programs. It bears the connotations associated with federal regulations and financial aid, but for these purposes, it’s a bit simpler. Recently, Evan Pauken, Director of Retention and Student Success at Kalamazoo Valley Community College described it as momentum, and suggested asking the question, “Are students making progress and can they see that progress?”
Making academic progress begs the question – progress toward what end? When students are able to articulate their educational goals, the markers of academic progress are much easier to define and track.
A first-year, first-time freshman taking general education courses at a community college intending to transfer to a four-year program will have different markers of progress than a senior nearing graduation with their bachelor’s degree, or from a personal enrichment student looking to brush up on some professional skills.
Regardless of the educational goal of the student, establishing and continuing momentum and making academic progress is a vital measure of health.
At the highest level, a student should be asking themselves three big questions when assessing their own academic progress:
- Standards: Am I meeting learning objectives? This will typically be about grades and satisfactory academic progress. However, it may also include things like acquiring skills, retaining information, and more.
- Timeliness: Am I moving forward at the right pace? For some students, this means staying enrolled full time and taking extra courses during summer and breaks. For others, it means maintaining a balance with all other life factors but continuing to move toward that educational goal
Fit: Is this the program for me? This applies to courses in a particular term, choice of major, program, and even school.
Now, most students are probably not asking themselves these questions in such an explicit and direct ways. However, if students are concerned about their academic progress, they tend to articulate their concerns in terms fairly close to what was laid out here. If student services professionals can help provide students with language like this to reflect on and assess their experience, they’ll see this continue throughout the other measures of health.
It’s easy to get caught up in collecting data for its own sake, or the tasks associated with daily routines, but ultimately, a students’ perception of their own journeys can offer the most insight. If students are equipped to first ask themselves the right questions, we can further equip them to address obstacles and concerns along the way.
To read more, download out eBook, 5 Signs of a Healthy Student Journey below!