What constitutes student success in higher education and how to ensure its growth is a topic that colleges and universities could benefit from examining. Thinking about the satisfaction and performance of your students, not only academically, but socially, professionally, and mentally, is the most efficient way to have a profitable school with a glowing reputation and attract students to your university or college.

Dropout rates in North America are at about one third of students in post-secondary institutions, coming in at about 31% in Canada and 32.9% in the United States. With the fear of these statistics rising, there is no reason to be complacent when it comes to student success in your institution. There is always room for improvement.

This article will outline what student success means for higher education and why it is important to your purpose, then list some concrete ways to boost student success rates and how university partnerships could be helpful in this process.

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Article Contents
9 min read

What Student Success Means Why Student Success Is Important How to Boost Student Success Conclusion FAQs

What Student Success Means

When evaluating student success in any higher education setting, you’re trying to determine whether students who are presently enrolled at your school are fulfilling the intentions they originally had when they signed up. The actual results of these inquiries can depend on many filters present in your school, such as by program, department, faculty, etc. A student applying to and beginning studies at your university likely did so to pursue an education that leads to a fulfilling career. A student does not start a degree with the intention of dropping out midway through. What happens is that students do not succeed when their vision has become unattainable for any number of reasons. However, most of these instances are preventable, which is why a focus on student success is crucial for colleges and universities. So, how is student success measured?

First, the number of students who graduate from your college or university can be a large indicator of what success is in higher education. Having the least number of students dropping out or not completing their program is ideal. If the number of dropouts is getting too high, there is an institutional failure somewhere, and actions must be taken to help struggling students succeed.

It could also be beneficial to examine how many graduates get jobs in the field after their graduation. This will indicate whether your program is doing what it’s supposed to and students are receiving the highest quality education they could be getting while enrolled at your school.

There are more academic success indicators based on actual student performance in their courses, such as comparing median GPAs or grade percentages. A student’s grades tend to falter before they drop out, so noticing these issues early and attempting to reverse them will lead to greater student success. These scores could also be compared from one class, faculty, program, or department to another to see if there are discrepancies and to discover what specifically is making that difference. For instance, if one program in a faculty has more dropouts and a much lower median GPA than another program in the same faculty with higher averages, the former program may need some auditing of its course requirements. Ensuring student success is about constant adjustment once issues have been found.

Student success doesn’t always necessarily refer to their grades, but all of these components are interconnected and fall under the larger umbrella of student success. Integral to student success are the centers and institutions that prioritize the wellbeing of your student body. Mental health is also correlated to student success, as poor mental health typically results in weaker academic performance or abandoning their program. Making sure the right mental health resources are in place and that they are being used by students in need can further indicate student success. If any measure put in place to aid students works, that contributes to a better culture of student success on your campus. Should there be issues that persist, there may be other reasons that need to be addressed.

Why Student Success Is Important

The foundation of every college or university is dependent on the success of its students. A higher education institution is failing in its purpose if students are leaving. Schools are meant to train the future generation to prepare them for the workforce and become leaders. A low student success rate inherently means that a school’s services are not performing in the ways that they should or that the school is not doing enough to support students in their charge. Student success is important because a school’s whole mission is dashed when there are systemic issues within the establishment.

When students are not successful in higher education, they are less likely to achieve the goals they set out to complete when they applied to college. They may have had aspirations or dreams of a life that may no longer be possible. There is often extreme disappointment and a sense of failure when students drop out, resulting in a lessened quality of life, poor mental health, and an uncertainty about what to do next. There is a newfound obstacle and anxiety about the future that they did not have to think about previously because dropping out or not performing well in school was an unforeseen event. Statistically, there is also less chance of having a higher paying salary if they do not succeed, which can bring on its own challenges. An emphasis on student success measures will make these unfortunate stories happen much less and will not create wasted potential.

From a revenue standpoint, students dropping out creates a loss in income for colleges and universities, which slowly decreases your ability to support students as much as you should. Your reputation will suffer, and fewer students will want to enroll at your school. This chain of events creates a vicious cycle whereby the school cannot put those funds back to implement the best college student retention practices, leading to worsening problems and long-term operational failures. In such a worst-case scenario, current students in the process of studying as well as prospective future students who could have benefited from your institution will be adversely affected.

To stop this unfortunate circumstance, post-secondary institutions must enhance their student success initiatives and resolve concerns before they get out of control.

How to Boost Student Success

It should be a primary objective of all higher education institutions to raise their student success rates and focus on dropout prevention methods. Here are some reliable tips and tricks to see a difference in student success at your school:

1. The First Year Is the Most Important

A student’s first semester is their adjustment period to college life. It can be overwhelming to some due to the heavy workload and other factors. Some students are away from their family and friends for the first time when they go off to university, so making sure your campus is a safe and interesting place to study is crucial to student success. If a student foresees multiple years left to go in your institution and they are not satisfied, they may change to another school or drop out altogether. Implementing the best college recruitment strategies will start your students off with an optimistic outlook. Fun and informative orientation proceedings are also highly beneficial for solidifying a great first impression with students. Students should feel like they are on the right path and that they are where they belong when they step on your campus. Let them know of any support systems or counselling services your school provides early so they can take advantage of them as soon as possible.

2. Think About Their Futures

Giving students the opportunity to access career planning or internships that will give them professional experience is a great way to improve student success. If the role of higher education is to prepare students for their futures, why not allow them to get some worthwhile experience alongside their studies? When programs are geared to the workplace, students will feel like they are working toward a goal while getting a taste of the work they may be doing once they complete their degree. This idea of working toward something is what will make students more determined to perform at a higher level. Through the implementation of co-op programs or other internships with their programs, students also have the chance to network both with their peers and potential employers.

3. Create an Inclusive and Equitable Campus Community

As previously noted, students who succeed feel a sense of belonging to their university or their program. If they feel unwelcome or as if their perspective is not valued, they will be less likely to graduate or perform well. Discrimination in any form should not be tolerated. Everybody should have the right to education, regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, disability, or socioeconomic status. The school’s values should reflect this sentiment, and employees should endorse this as well when they come to work. A university that values diversity of background and ideas will awaken a sense of pride within its student body and support success.

4. Support Student Passions Beyond Their Academics

While courses and credits are the main focus of college life, appealing to students’ interests outside of school will enhance their experience at school. Giving students the ability to start clubs about the things they enjoy, participate in extracurricular activities, sports teams, poetry nights, live events, and more is sure to boost morale. Students have passions that are separate from their education, and they should be encouraged to explore them during their time at your school. As a result, students will connect with like-minded individuals in the university community who may not be in the same program as them, leading to a greater quality of life and opportunities for success.

5. Offer Financial Aid Opportunities

With tuition prices rising and the most common reason for dropping out being the financial toll of higher education, financial aid is crucial to student success. There are so many potential successful applicants to colleges and universities who simply cannot make the most of their experience because they cannot afford it. Most students are not able to work enough during their studies to cover all the necessary fees and living expenses, so having help through the form of bursaries, work/study programs, scholarships, and grants can be a life-changing development for underprivileged students. Make students aware of the financial aid options available at your school early on, so that they can apply and receive the right amount of support accordingly. Alleviating the financial stress of students in need will surely raise spirits as well as overall success stories coming out of your school.

6. Make Your Services Accessible

In recent years, more online or remote options have been available for students who are unable to attend full-time on campus, due to their international status, mobility issues, or other reasons. Technology in the classroom is also more innovative than ever and using multimedia techniques to deliver courses will widen up the options for students to choose how to succeed in your institution. Non-traditional methods of teaching have been on the rise, and students are in the process of determining what they respond to and what they do not. What’s important, though, is providing them with learning they cannot receive anywhere else or on the internet. Furthermore, giving students a hands-on approach to how they access or experience their learning can give them a sense of agency over their education.

7. Hire Dedicated Faculty and Staff

The employees you hire into your establishments are just as important for student success. Teachers and professors should be proficient in their given subjects and motivated to guide students to reach their true potential. Advisors should be empathetic and have a vast knowledge of school programs and services. Administrative workers should be organized with great attention to detail and a willingness to help students. All faculty and staff members should work within the school’s mission statement and be fully devoted to the success of its students. Different specific qualifications will depend on the role, but the ultimate goal of your institution will remain the same. Part of their role as employees of a college or university is that they understand the necessity of student success.

8. Focus on Academic Advising

Academic advisors definitely should be given special attention when thinking about how to improve student success rates in higher education. Their main role is to aid students in seamlessly progressing through their degree, switching programs, or accessing university resources and career planning. Having a larger number of and emphasis on academic advisors present in your school will allow for more students to reach out to them and maximize their probability of success. Their services can be provided through various means, including in-house advising or external academic consulting for those who need graduate school application help or medical school application help. No student should have to experience their journey alone and having academic advisors or consultants in their corner will motivate them to perform to the best of their abilities.


The attempt to improve student success in higher education can take many forms and is not a simple process, but there are incomparable advantages to zooming in on the success of your students. Putting students first and being active in their success while enrolled at your college or university will benefit all those who walk through your school’s corridors. Letting students have a voice in their education and viewing your institution from their perspective is vital to making their student experience a positive one.

Due to the constant threat of less interest in post-secondary education overall and of students dropping out, student success measures should be a high priority in schools every time a new term or recruitment season rolls around. Discussion surrounding this topic will exist as long as colleges and universities are still standing. While it is inevitable that some students will decide they no longer wish to pursue higher education or college studies, having the right measures in place will reduce the number of preventable losses at your school.


1. How is student success measured in higher education?

A key indicator is graduation rate, how students exit your school, and what the circumstances of their exit are. Did the students complete their program and finish what they meant to do when they started? Did they find a job after graduation related to their field? If they did drop out, what was the reason?

There are also further academic success factors, such as exam scores and GPA, which can indicate the success of a particular program of study based on how students perform. 

2. My college or university is doing well, and we have high student success rates. Do we still need to implement further measures?

Most probably, yes. Student success should always be part of the discussion. There is no limit to student success and there is always something that could be done to improve your school’s current practices, even if they are successful. Use data or student feedback to pinpoint additional places to devote your attention to next.

3. Should I see student success as a business plan for my school?

Yes and no. Of course, there are financial benefits to having a primary focus on student success. More student satisfaction tends to lead to more enrollment, a better reputation, and higher general interest in your school. These consequences will generate more income, but with more income there should also be more thought put into how to better support the success of your students. One influences the other and cannot exist without the other.

While it may be a benefit to your business to prioritize student success, it is important to not view the entire process as solely a business endeavor. Instead, strategize where to focus your budget and energy, given the specific needs or problem areas of your school.

4. Why is student success important to colleges and universities?

Student success encompasses the entire purpose of higher education. Without it, colleges and universities cannot fulfill the promise of providing high-quality education to teach the next generation.

5. What are some tips for improving online learning?

It’s typically up to how a professor wants to run a course or up to specific university procedures, but when delivering courses online, it is important to try to get students engaged as much as you can. Virtual learning does allow for some students to slip through the cracks and not feel as connected to their learning or the program they chose due to a shorter attention span. Other students thrive in this format, or it is the only option they have. It is a mixed bag, so using up-to-date technology and having a professor who is passionate about their material and available for virtual office hours is a good place to start when online learning is involved.

6. Can these measures also be used to recruit new students to my school?

Absolutely. Particular perks or services you offer could be advertised to prospective students during recruitment season. If your current students are satisfied with your institution, they will also be more willing to encourage others to apply due to their own positive experience. Recruiting students is a process and learning how to increase student enrollment in your college or university is also highly beneficial to student success.

7. How can academic consulting help with student success?

Academic consulting can help students establish a goal and follow through with it. It is especially useful for those who want to continue their studies in graduate school, law, medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, or with an MBA. If your students are accepted into these highly competitive programs, it will reflect favorably on your institution’s educational prowess. Speaking with a consultant could give students the extra motivation they need to succeed in their studies and aid in any part of the application process, including test preparation, such as for CASPer or the MCAT.

8. What parts of the admissions process do consultants help with?

Academic consultants can guide students throughout the entire admissions process, from beginning to end. Depending on the student, they could help them improve their writing and communication skills when producing their statement of intent, freshen up their interview capabilities with an interview skills workshop, or plan their studying for important exams through MCAT preparation. They can also provide additional information about what schools to apply to and answer any other student questions. With the expert advice and feedback they offer, academic consulting is a must for students navigating complex admissions processes.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting


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