While traditional indicators such as retention and completion are crucial, Provost, Academic, and Student representatives closely examine other metrics.


Provost and academic officers at biennial institutions rely heavily on traditional measures like retention to improve the health of their colleges, but holistic markers have also become key variables for measuring success.

For example, one area that is receiving a lot of attention is social justice initiatives. In the Ithaka S + R Department of Higher Education’s “Moving the Needle for Basic Needs” report, nearly 60% of these executives said they are “extremely important” to their institutions, up from around 24% in 2019.

With two-year colleges battling for higher enrollment and better degrees, and still feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ithaka S + R found that addressing student needs has become a priority. Retrieving the data can be challenging, however, as it is often “isolated” in student affairs departments and not accompanied by important historical indicators.

All 128 provosts, senior academic officers and vice presidents for academic affairs who responded to the survey (sent to more than 1,000 institute directors) said completion and retention rates were key indicators of success. However, support for basic needs (80%) and student health (75%) was not far off.

“Despite this strong focus on traditional metrics, it is noteworthy that more than two-thirds of provostists see more holistic metrics – such as those that focus on housing or food security and wellbeing – as extremely important to student success,” the authors of the Study. wrote under the direction of Melissa Blankstein and Christine Wollf-Eisenberg. “Eight out of ten respondents rated meeting basic needs as very important, while 63% rated student engagement as equivalent to student success.”

Measure success

Responses came from various biennial institutions – small, medium and large – in October and December 2020. The data the Provost and others collect during the year is ultimately critical to the accreditation, funding and achievement of their own goals.

The Ithaca survey found that most colleges use student affairs, academic affairs, or a combination of both to track data, which is then identified by institutional research and institutional effectiveness teams. For example, 61% said they had basic needs addressed by students, while 25% said they used both. For GPAs, 29% relied on academic affairs, 12% relied on student affairs, and 48% relied on both. Institutions use student surveys to collect data, with more than 90% finding that those conducted with current students are far more accurate and impactful.

But are the data-gathering methods effective in meeting student needs? The survey shows that only 30% of managers “have developed a comprehensive process for documenting the student goals defined by the students themselves”.

When comparing 2019 with 2020, many of the goals that are important to the institutions are the traditional measures: increasing retention (87%), increasing degree (80%), completing courses and learning from students (75%), and increasing enrollment ( 69%).

However, the most significant increase was due to social justice initiatives as noted above. Two other data points that are new to this year’s report – and ones that have come to the fore for students and institutions – are “Developing the skills of the workforce” (60%) and “Speeding up the time to get a certificate or certificate Degree to be acquired ”(44%).

Survey authors said the data inspired a provost to note, “There’s more understanding of the impact of life outside the classroom on learning inside the classroom.” In fact, nearly 80% of respondents indicated that targeting these areas not only helps students but can also create “funding incentives” for institutions.

Most university directors (75%) said they were “extremely or very interested” in metrics that affect students outside of their academic life, such as: B. WiFi and technology, food insecurity and finance, but also those that tend to be larger and medium-sized institutions. Many would like more disaggregated data on race and ethnicity, socio-economic status, and first-generation student numbers.

What’s stopping them from getting the data they need?

More than half cited a lack of human resources in the IR / IE departments. More than 40% said they simply don’t have the data infrastructure. A third said they did not have the “ability to incorporate and analyze new metrics”.

“Given these limitations, one possible step to expand the data collection processes is to review the indicators currently being collected for overall student success, reduce duplicate data collection in different departments, centralize the location of the data, and share this common data for faculties and staff to make the college available in all areas ”, stated the authors of Ithaka S + R in the report.

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