Three Strategies Lead to Student Success

These competencies improve grades, retention, and graduation rates.

Students who develop three competencies are more likely to persist in completing college, according to new research featured in “Supporting Students’ College Success: The Role of Assessment of Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Competencies.” The study—commissioned by the National Science Foundation in the U.S. and released by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine—was based on a review of 49 articles targeting 61 experimental studies that examined interventions to improve educational attainment.

As measured by grades, retention, and graduation rates, the three competencies that best support the success of college students are:

A sense of belonging. College students—particularly underrepresented minorities and first-generation college students—achieve more when they feel that they belong in college, fit in well, and are socially integrated.

A growth mindset. College students are more successful when they believe their own intelligence is not a fixed entity, but rather a malleable quality that college can help improve.

Personal goals and values. They also are more successful when they perceive that these goals are directly linked to the achievement of a desirable future end.

These competencies can be significantly improved when schools encourage students to complete low-cost writing exercises, according to one of the co-authors, Fred Oswald, a professor of psychology at Rice University in Houston, Texas. One exercise requires students to write about the relevance of course topics to their own lives or to the lives of family members or close friends. Another aims to lessen psychological perceptions of threat on campus by helping students reframe social adversity as common and transient.

According to Oswald, these interventions have been shown to improve GPAs impressively—not only in classes where interventions were made, but many semesters beyond—with the greatest benefits accruing in student groups at greatest risk for academic failure. While Oswald notes that these interventions need to be studied further, he believes that they show great promise.

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This article originally appeared in BizEd's September/October 2017 print issue. If you have comments or feedback on its contents, please contact us at [email protected].