What student success looks like at graduation

I am proud to say my son will graduate next weekend from the Kent State University School of Arts & Sciences. The poor kid. With two parents who have worked in higher education for their entire careers, he has been our own lovable lab rat in the most important experiment of our careers – and lives – but has exceeded our expectations.

As parents, we watched the whole process unfold, not just from day-to-day and year-to-year, but also hovering and observing at the 20,000-foot level: how would he succeed, from selecting a college through degree completion? How would we feel about the administration and faculty of the institutions he would attend?

By all accounts, I’m concluding he has been a case of ‘student success,’ from the parent, institution and student perspective.

From the eyes of the parent

We watched the whole college selection process with trepidation. Would he find the right school? Would he get scholarships? Would he find the right major? Will we ever really be comfortable filling out the FAFSA forms?

It turns out that he has completed his degree in four years and earned scholarships along the way. He has gotten to know his faculty and they have been amazingly supportive. In fact, his department chair is a trusted advisor and now our son, Matt, has accepted the chance to continue at Kent State for his Masters in Geography. He has even presented research at a Geography conference.

Additionally, faculty outside the institution is recognizing one of his team projects! He has found the path he loves and from the time he was little, I would say that was our goal for him as his parents. That is student success to the parent.

From the eyes of the institution

Matt had a few challenges. He changed his major three times – something we expected, but worried about. He was also a transfer student, switching institutions halfway to completion. I remember telling him to be sure he had properly withdrawn from his previous institution (he did). He proactively worked with Kent State – and his great advisors – to ensure his credits would transfer.

Turns out there’s a reason there are solutions for transfer course evaluation.

If his loyalty to the institution he is graduating from is any indicator, he’s a success that way too. He loves Kent State. He values his professors, trusts them and truly enjoys spending time with them and learning from them.

I can’t speak for Kent State, obviously, but from what I know of higher ed, I’m guessing he’s a pretty good mark of student success from the institution’s point of view.

From the eyes of the graduate

We won’t start this process over until 2020, so I asked my son what his advice would be to his younger sisters. Here’s what he said.

Work hard with your advisors and know your plan. Be involved in your classes. Be active in group projects and don’t be afraid to take the lead.

Know your professors and make sure they know you. Go to their office hours. Ask them questions. Let them know you are trying to succeed. Get to know your department (program) faculty because they can be a resource for you in their areas of expertise.

Learn how to write. Base your writing on writing in the field. Learn who are prominent writers in your field and read their journals and articles. Then let that style be your guide.

Take College Credit Plus opportunities – it is a good taste of college life, but with the safety net of parents and support. Find your confidence. Get involved with campus activities.

Those are all things he has done that he believes have helped him succeed.

And to the institutions themselves, what advice would he offer? I found this fascinating.

Look at your first-year seminars and make sure those classes are really pushing what students will need at the upperclassman level, like how to build relationships with faculty. Require students to visit faculty during office hours. Require every student to do one semester of research with a faculty member.

Using technology is a great way to reach out to this generation. Make it easy for students to start relationships with faculty that way, and then build from there. You should also use technology behind the scenes to make sure faculty like counselors have instant access to student information, so they can focus on helping the students, not looking for information.

Matt then offered some practical advice.

Look carefully at your orientation for transfer students. They might transfer into college feeling confident that they understand how universities work, but the fact is every institution is unique. Sometimes communication can get lost. That’s especially true if you transfer and live off-campus and miss that on-campus experience. Getting involved in student activities takes a little more prodding.

As a higher education professional, I found this next point most interesting.

Make sure advising opportunities come from the department or program, as they are the most valuable and connect your passion of study with next steps for a career.

My son expects his advisors to understand the content of classes before they make course recommendations and he expects that they will help him understand what he will take away from the courses. That’s a high bar to set, but maybe it is reflective of what we need to do to best serve the student.

When I asked him about technology, I thought he would tell me he should be able to register for classes by thinking about them in his head – or maybe he wants the dining hall to charge him with a retinal scan. But he was pretty practical. He told me he always pays close attention to email from the institution. He thinks communication is important.

I realize that’s not always the case with students, but I thought it was interesting. He didn’t seem particularly worried about registering for courses using the current system or getting texts all the time. He said texts from the university, at least for him, are just weather warnings or incidents and luckily, in his career, there have not been too many.

The ROI of a bachelor’s degree

In a way, I’m graduating, too. I’ve spent my entire career in higher education, but now I’m finishing the journey as a parent of a child who has completed step one.

Like any true professional, I’m always looking for a return on investment. Our ROI is that my son is graduating confident and passionate about his field, with a next step in place. And I’m proud to say that my career helps higher education institutions empower other parents and students to feel the same way. Onward to graduation!

Laurel Stiller

Laurel Stiller brings her passion for helping institutions strategically maximize their efficiency to Hyland as its marketing portfolio manager for Higher Education. A graduate of Miami University, Ohio, with more than 20 years of experience working to map proven solutions to higher education challenges, Laurel implemented ERP solutions at Dickinson College and University of Oregon Foundation before joining the sales and marketing team at Datatel, now Ellucian, Inc. Laurel offers a deep understanding of higher education, dedication to transparency and a fondness for candid conversations about the solutions Hyland develops and delivers to the market. You may reach her at Laurel.Stiller at onbase.com.

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