Focusing on Student Success

When a former governor and presidential candidate becomes president of your university, it tends to shake things up a bit. Such was the case at Purdue last year when Mitch Daniels became president and announced a four-year tuition freeze for current students. That brought a sharpened focus and a increased need to demonstrate value. Groups had to choose where to focus their efforts: on supporting research, or on supporting student success. And Jason Fish’s group chose to focus on student success. 

Jason’s group builds apps for use inside the classroom. In their old way of working, they would build the app first: spec out the functionality, make sure it met the client’s needs, test it for usability, etc. etc. Now however, they look at the desired outcome first. How will this contribute to student success? And by success they mean graduation and retention at the top of the pyramid of needs, followed by classroom performance, and then “the whole student” (physical, emotional, social, intellectual) at the base,

To take this outcomes-first approach, you need to create what Jason calls a “culture of assessment.” You can’t look for measures of success after launching a new website or app or tool. From the very beginning, you have to be asking yourself, what is this tool supposed to be doing? How do we measure whether it’s doing it? How do we connect that back to some measure of student success? You might not be the one with the data you need to answer these questions. Become allies with people in your institutional research office, office of assessment, communications office — anyone whose job it is to ask questions and collect data about the student experience.

When shifting to a culture of assessment, Jason explains that it’s important to start small, but keep your eyes on the larger goal. Communicate those small successes. When you can tie the work you are doing to a real impact on student success, that is a great story to tell. Then build on those small successes to create larger change.