Pulling Back the Curtain on Student Potential

By Ross Markle

Almost anyone would agree that we could do better in the area of student success. Only 55 percent of college students at two- and four-year colleges completed a degree or certificate within six years, according to a report released by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The numbers are even more drastic for Hispanic and black students who graduated at rates of 45.8 percent and 38 percent, respectively.

With many institutions experiencing low and stagnant retention and graduation rates, there are implications at several levels. Institutions work hard at, but often fall short of, supporting their students. Students fail to obtain the credentials that will benefit them far beyond graduation. Our economy fails to receive the workforce it needs in order to grow.

To help close this gap, ETS created the SuccessNavigator® assessment — a noncognitive skill assessment designed to help colleges identify students’ strengths and challenges, provide resources and improve retention and completion rates. A notable body of research shows that students’ noncognitive skills and strategies are just as important as their academic preparation in determining whether they will succeed in college. A holistic model of assessment, which includes a student’s noncognitive skills along with more traditional indicators like their GPA and test scores, can give schools a more complete view of a student and what’s needed to optimize their success.

The entire higher education system is based on the assumption that academic preparation (e.g., high school grades and test scores) is the best indicator of a student’s likelihood of success. This is not always the case. There are numerous factors that can determine if a student will succeed at the college level. Someone with low test scores who is motivated and has a strong support network may be more likely to succeed than someone with strong SAT scores, but has poor time management or is experiencing a personal crisis in their family. Before SuccessNavigator, institutions would invest time and resources in the student who had slightly lower test scores rather than the student who does not have the self-management skills or the family crisis that could interrupt his/her studies. Now institutions can use SuccessNavigator to develop actionable programs and plans for the latter student so that they do not slip through the cracks.

The assessment helps inform students of their skills and helps institutions connect students to the resources they may need to be successful. The 30-minute, non-proctored online assessment gives institutions insight into factors that could make or break a student’s ability to complete their studies on time, such as:

  • Academic Skills — These organizational and classroom behaviors — such as using a calendar, regularly attending class or completing assignments on time — can have a significant effect on academic success.
  • Commitment — The assessment also measures motivation and a student’s commitment to succeeding academically. A student who is not committed to academic success or the institution can often easily lose sight of his/her goals.
  • Self-Management — The ability to anticipate and respond to pressure and stress related to college life is another critical factor measured on the assessment. Determining how a student handles stress while taking a test can be a red flag that institutions can address.
  • Social Support — Availability of resources that support academic success, such as connections to fellow students, professors, family and others, is another critical factor for institutions to be aware of.

From the institutional perspective, the assessment helps advising — not just for course enrollment but course placement as well. SuccessNavigator can identify if a student with low test scores could be accelerated into higher level classes, based on their commitment, time management or social supports. Most institutions already have the resources in place that students need. However, connecting them to those resources can be the challenge. SuccessNavigator helps solve that problem.

SuccessNavigator has become a critical tool for numerous institutions including Montgomery College in Rockville, Maryland. The school uses the assessment as part of their Achieving the Promise Initiatives to identify areas that need improvement or immediate attention and develop personalized plans for students, including pairing students with academic success coaches. This is especially critical for first generation college students who may have the abilities to succeed but struggle to navigate the system.

“Success Navigator is a powerful diagnostic tool that can identify strengths, weaknesses and areas of concern that need immediate attention,” said Ja’Bette Lozupone, Director of Achieving the Promise Initiatives at Montgomery College. “The results enable our team to create highly personalized and targeted academic success plans for our students to keep them on track to complete their academic goals.”

There are many tales of early college experiences where a dean or other administrator would say, “Look to your left… now look to your right… one of you will not make it to graduation.” Certainly, this represents a time in higher education when attrition was a source of pride. SuccessNavigator signifies a shift to a culture that seeks to foster the success of each student. When used effectively, tools like these can shift our understanding of students and be a gateway for institutional change. At ETS, we want all students to succeed, and we’re here to help institutions and students achieve that goal.