6 evidence-based factors to support student success

Looking for ways that practitioners can increase student success, the Research and Planning Group (The RP Group) for the California Community Colleges turned to an often-overlooked source: students themselves.

“A lot of studies on supporting student success are quantitative in nature. They look at characteristics of successful students,” said Darla M. Cooper, EdD, Director of Research and Evaluation for the RP Group. “We didn’t want to do that again. Rather than just looking at data, we wanted to give students a voice.”

The goal of the research is to give people who serve students a framework to identify how they’re helping students, as well as identify gaps in service.

Dr. Cooper will provide an overview of the Student Support (Re)defined project and share specific strategies from "10 Ways Everyone Can Support Student Success" during her plenary presentation and follow-up discussion session at the AACRAO Technology and Transfer Conference, July 9-11, 2017, in New Orleans. Discover conference themes, explore sessions, and register now: the early bird deadline is June 9.

6-factor framework for student success

For the Student Support (Re)defined project, funded by a grant from the Kresge Foundation, the RP Group conducted an extensive literature review and interviews to develop the Success Factors Framework. Using this framework as the foundation, the researchers spoke with almost 900 students from 13 colleges across the state through a telephone survey and focus groups to learn what students think helps make them successful.

Giving these students a voice has  culminated in a number of actionable conclusions. According to the research, student support must be both integrated into students’ daily experience and included in the overall curriculum.

Basically, students are more likely to succeed when certain conditions are in place, described by researchers as the “Success Factors Framework,” which identifies that students need to be:

  1. Directed: students have a goal and know how to achieve it

  2. Focused: students stay on track—keeping their eyes on the prize

  3. Nurtured: students feel somebody wants and helps them to succeed

  4. Engaged: students actively participate in class and extracurricular activities

  5. Connected: students feel like they are part of the college community

  6. Valued: students’ skills, talents, abilities and experiences are recognized; they have opportunities to contribute on campus and feel their contributions are appreciated

“These six factors don’t encompass everything, but the vast majority of students’ answers in the study fit into these six factors,” Cooper said. “A lot of the factors intersect with each other and many things we can do to help students touch more than one factor at a time. Every one of these factors connects to every other. Some are more strongly linked, but they all connect.”

From research to praxis

Since the study was completed in 2012, it’s really taken off.

“The reaction speaks to how this information just makes sense to people. It really resonates,” Cooper said.

After developing an in-depth understanding of the Success Factors Framework and other exciting resources derived from the research--including five key themes that emerged as well as 10 Ways Everyone Can Support Student Success--many community colleges in California began sharing their exciting results with the RP Group team.

“Thanks to what they learned, some schools made minor changes, but others put it in their strategic plan!” Cooper said. (See example stories of school implementation here.)

Beyond supporting students

Some schools are even sharing the project as a way to help employees. “We didn’t do research on how to support employees but, during presentations, we’ve had people raise their hands and say ‘I need [these factors] to feel supported in my job.’”

The RP Group is looking into securing funding to replicate the study with employees--faculty, staff and administrators. “What are colleges doing to help employees feel connected to the college?” Cooper asked. “You want students to feel connected, but what if the employees who are supporting them aren’t connected?”

Future research will also specifically target online students, who have the same needs, but who may be harder to reach with these success factors than students who are on campus.