Thoughts about student success

Happy new year! A new year has begun and I am trying to get my mind in gear after two weeks of Christmas vacation. As part of this effort I am diving into the pile of journal articles and books on my desk.

I just finished Vinent Tinto`s “Taking student success seriously: rethinking the first year of college” from 2005. It is an old article, but it is widely cited and I thought it deserved a read-through. It really did! The article is a “plain spoken” post about what criteria for success we must think about when we talk about student retention.

Tinto mentions six contitions within the institution that are supportive of student success, and they are: commitment, expectations, support, feedback, involvement and learning.

a. Commitment: the schools must make an effort and be willing to invest in stidents, especially in student in so-called risk zones.
b. Expectations: Schools expect too little of their students, and no studen rises to low expectations= they do not study enough
c. Support: Three types of support must be given: academic, social and financial*. Academic support can be in the form of development cources, tutoring, study groups, and academic support programs. Social support can be mentoring and counceling.
d. Feedback: “Students are more likely to succeed in settings that provide faculty, staff, and students frequent feedback aout their performance” (p.4) – such as classroom assessment techniques in the classroom and using portfolios.
e. Involvement: If students are academically and socially involved they are more likely to succeed, and this is especially true during the first year of college. Getting them involved in classroom situations is important because many of them will only meet faculty staff and fellow students there, as many students commute to campus they spend little time there outside their pure academic activities.
f. Learning: This has always been the key to retention. “Students who learn are students who stay” (p.5). This means that the school should always be focussing on understanding what makes students learn and be committed to support these learning factors. The school should also foster peer learning and getting the students actively involved.

* In Norway, financial aid has not been that relevant because few institutions in higher education have tuition fees, but still..

“To sum up, students are more likely to succeed when they find themselves in settings that are committed to their success, hold high expectations for their success, provide needed academic, social, and financial support, frequent feedback, and actively involve them, especially with other students and faculty in learning” (p. 5)

Of course, some of the things Tinto mentions are easier said than done, like getting students involved. Anyone who`s tried to get students involved in groups and commitees knows that it is not always easy – BUT when they do succeed, the students almost always bring a new and valuable perspective into the work.

I think we need to work on several things: academic support programs that prepare students for college (integrated in the academic setting! – not stand-alone courses), thorough feedback and assessment in all courses, trying to get a better link between theory and practice (when possible), and applying active learning techniques where possible. In addition, we could be better at incouraging peer learning (study buddys) etc.

Phuh! There is much to do, and I hope and trust that 2013 will be a good year for student learning, faculty and library collaboration and personal development.

Reference:
Tinto, V. (2005) Taking student success seriously: Rethinking the first year of college [online] URL: http://fdc.fullerton.edu/events/archives/2005/05-01/acadforum/Taking%20Success%20Seriously.pdf (04.01.2013)

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