• Dominic R. Burkett

The Mechanisms for Determining Student Success

Updated: Jul 2, 2020

The significance of a college degree on American life is no secret. We know prior to COVID-19 that within the U.S. the benefits of a college degree versus a high school diploma includes a 33% reduction in the likelihood of being unemployed, a 33% chance to earn a million dollars more of income throughout a lifetime, as well as increases in life expectancy.

But how do we measure that potential? How should college student success be understood by the institutional executives who lead today?



The answer, we believe, is far more nuanced than immediate outcome-driven metrics. The inequities of American K-16 education is proof that graduation and retention rates are never the sole indicators of success in education. For the individual student, it is the enabling factors of the total trajectory enabled by secondary education, rather than the metrics that make success possible.

The college experience shapes and enhances full-life experiences, and thus, our argument is that student success is truly the judgement of the student. This judgement is formed in three distinct developmental stages of provision by an institution:

1. Access: As the key to student success in both arrival and resources.


2. Persistence: Focusing on interaction and a delicate balance of responsibility between institutional provision and student agency.


3. Opportunity: The immediate-intermediate output of growth and exit, created by the education provided by both academe and environment, the molded mindset, and connectors available.


The inequitable educational system and varied higher education offerings does not negate the argument that the relationship between college and the student is one of the single greatest projective balances of responsibility in modern America. But it does place the onus on the institution to face that responsibility head on. Considering the heightened level of expected ROI from the student perspective when faced with the investment of a lifetime, further scrutiny on definitive student success will only rise in a COVID-19 world, where unpredictable forces are driving innovation in the face of new realities and change to meet present-day needs.

Our advice to institutional leaders on how to increase student success includes:

  • Conduct continuous research into your students’ expectations within each of the three distinct developmental stages of provision, molding offerings to meet their needs and turning areas of concern into foci of strength.


  • Assert earlier, creative, and definitive academic advisory services to maximize pathway determination.


  • Evaluate the silos of educational offerings that limit intersectionality, as well as the barriers to historically lucrative pathways (e.g. secondarily selective business schools).


  • More readily connect students to insights within current workforce trends and professional success pathways, arming them with specific knowledge based on their chosen field of study.


Behavioral analysis and statistical trends are already heavily used throughout the higher education landscape to better predict and measure success. And data collection from alumni has evolved immensely in the last thirty years as well to provide more insight into the graduate's path, preparation, and mindset as well. But an institution's administration can best prepare students for success by being honest with itself on its mission, purpose, and capabilities.

In short, college student success is, inherently, the judgement of the student.


- DB

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Williamsburg, VA​​

Arlington, VA

Copyright 2020 Marquee Consulting

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