Driving Toward New Measures of Student Success • Institute for Effectiveness in Higher Education
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Driving Toward New Measures of Student Success

Driving Toward New Measures of Student Success

Just before the holidays, one of my favorite inspirational writers, Seth Godin, put up a new post on his website. In writing about “The Real Scam of Influencer,” Seth included this nugget (among others): “When there’s a single metric (likes/followers), we end up looking in the rear-view mirror when we should be driving instead.”

Person wearing sunglasses looking in rearview mirror

Those of you who follow me will not be surprised to learn that this statement has been rolling around in my brain in the weeks since I first read it. Now I’m ready to talk about it (and hear your thoughts!). For so long, higher education has relied largely on a single metric: First-time, Full-time Graduation/Completion rates. Moreover, higher education has largely allowed for outside groups to dictate which metrics matter most.

Single Metric Woes

Used as a measure—the measure—of student and institutional success, First-time, Full-time Graduation Rate is very much a look in the rear-view mirror. It’s like looking at a red-light camera snapshot of student success, when what we really we need is the traffic camera footage to get the whole picture.

And while I certainly don’t dispute the value of the First-time, Full-time Graduation Rate metric, I think we can do better. Higher Education can take the wheel and drive the conversation about student success by adding additional metrics to the conversation. In order to better understand institutional and student success, colleges and universities need to analyze, incorporate, and share multiple data points that reflect ALL of our students, not just a select group.

The good news is that colleges and universities are already collecting (and reporting to IPEDS) Outcome Measures data that can put them in the driver’s seat. This data provides a much more comprehensive picture of student success because it includes graduation/completion rate subsets for:

      • First-time and Transfer-in students
      • Full-time and Part-time students
      • Pell Grant recipient and non-recipient students

Driving New Metrics

These data points can be evaluated independently or combined into new metrics , giving us a much more complete picture of where the institution and its students are excelling and where they are falling short. So, we can use this kind of data to understand things like the performance of targeted programs and initiatives, which groups of students the institution is serving best, and where our limited resources might be best directed.

Person driving view out front window

However—and this is a big however—it is up to higher education leaders to take the wheel with respect to which metrics are used to evaluate our success. We can do that by widely sharing the data, why it matters, what it means for the college or university, and how it will be used toward continuous improvement of student success.

Now we just need to put our collective foot on the gas and go!


The Institute for Effectiveness in Higher Education wants to be your partner in understanding these new metrics and what they mean for your institution. Our RealityCheck Report compares your institution’s completion rates with the expected RealityCheck Rates based on your institutional and student characteristics. Contact us to discuss how we can help you drive your institution’s student success objectives.

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