Seven Key Metrics For Tracking Student Success

Seven Key Metrics For Tracking Student Success

Faculty and staff are feeling really stretched when it comes to supporting the student journey at institutions. We know that students today are coming to campus with increasingly high academic and social-emotional needs, and of course, expectations. Yet, each of our institutions is unique. So how do we best utilize researched practices with the skills and needs of our unique student populations?

It all starts with understanding our individual students.

By understanding students at the individual level, we can then determine what interventions and pathways will best support their college journey. And once we understand the individual student journey, we’ll also be better equipped to support our entire student population with cohesive, effective, and well-timed programming with a track-record of promoting success.

To gain a better picture of the individual student journey, there are seven key metrics campuses can track for a better understanding of their student populations and how different initiatives are having – or not having – an impact.

1.) Non-cognitive Factor Scores

There has been a lot of research recently around non-cognitive skills in students. These skills, such as resiliency, motivation, and confidence in academic abilities or social settings, provide information particularly ripe with opportunity to better understand what strengths a student has to draw upon throughout their college experience. Think about first-year college students – we typically don’t know a lot about them outside of basic demographic info and previous academic history. Sure, there’s a lot to glean from those cognitive factors, but a better understanding of the non-cognitive factors a student will have to draw upon in that first-year could provide some valuable insight before even stepping foot on campus or logging into the virtual classroom.

Non-cognitive skills are best measured by an assessment – either written or via an in-person interview. We work with institutions all over the country to administer different non-cognitive assessments each year – The Student Strengths Inventory (SSI), which is designed for first-year students and the Continuing Student Assessment (CSA), designed for 2nd year students and beyond. Most institutions use the information as part of their individual advising and cohort intervention strategies.

2.) Predictive Risk Scores

The second metric institutions are harnessing as part of a student success strategy is predictive analytics to identify students by risk-level. By gathering data and using it to predict student outcomes, campuses are better prepared to be proactive in their student interventions. In addition to helping campuses identify at-risk students, these predictive risk scores can be used as a tracking metric to better understand what may improve your students’ likelihood of success and what may deter that success along the way so that support efforts can be improved from year to year.

3.) Degree of Co-curricular Engagement

We know from research that students embedded into the social fabric of an institution are much more likely to persist and be successful. So, levels of co-curricular engagement can be important to track to understand how connected students are to outside-the-classroom activities at your institution. Encouraging and tracking engagement outside of the classroom is one of the most common strategies campuses we work with utilize to promote student success. It’s why so many campuses who have a first-year experience program have outside-the-classroom requirements. When a student is not engaging outside of the classroom, this can be a strong indicator that the student may be struggling in some way.

4.) Level of Classroom Engagement and Academic Performance

It’s no surprise that tracking what’s happening inside the classroom is an important metric to utilize for understanding the individual student. Much of the research around student success in the classroom is based on course engagement and performance, but most campuses focus on metrics that happen too late in a student’s struggling process. When the first-year advising or student success office gets final grades and learns that a student is now on probation, the time to intervene has passed. But there are likely clues up to that point, and if tracked, can allow the institution to be more proactive.

  • Class absences. Depending on the size and culture of your institution, faculty can be encouraged to track student absences. Advising professionals can then be notified when a student has missed a certain amount so they can follow up with the student to see what might be going on – Is the student sick? Financial issues? Challenges at home? Etc.

  • Milestone assignments. Faculty often don’t report grades until mid-terms or final grades are required. We work with quite a few campuses who have set up a series of structured assignments in foundational courses – either in the gen ed program or major – as these are often gateway courses to success. By reporting grades sooner, the advising office can get a sense much earlier as to which students are struggling, perhaps even well before midterms.

  • Mid-term performance. Mid-term grades are great to track across all courses when milestone assignments can’t be built in. There is still time to be proactive and make a difference on the final grade. Institutions can then pair their outreach with resources that also help students understand the type of class performance needed to raise the grade.

5.) Campus Resource Usage

Campuses are investing quite a bit in various resources across campus, so it can be helpful to understand how a student is making use of those them to ensure they are having their designed impact.

Consider all the places you have set up to serve and support students – Academic Advising, Financial Aid, Registration, Student Engagement & Leadership, Learning and Tutoring Centers. Understanding who is visiting what centers and when are powerful metrics to understand. There are a variety of ways to track a student’s use of resources – from swiping card IDs to mobile check-ins to check-in kiosks at key centers. Evaluating this information can help you better understand – Are students using these resources as designed? At the right time? And, is it making a difference?

6.) Assessment Responses

In addition to non-cognitive assessments, it’s common for campuses to survey and assess their students in other areas. Many campuses we work with do a six-week check-in survey of their first-year students to take the pulse of their experience and/or send a broader survey around student satisfaction. The individual responses to these surveys can provide a wealth of actionable data to help you better support individual students, as well as identify trends to inform your initiatives. Here is a sample of common questions campuses have found most valuable in identifying early potential roadblocks for students:

  • Are you considering transferring out of our institution?
  • How confident are you in your choice of major?
  • Do you have concerns about managing your family obligations while in school?
  • If you have a job, how many hours on average do you work in a week?
  • Do you anticipate having trouble paying your tuition each semester?

7.) Number and Type of Early Alerts

The last metric to consider for first-year students is the data other faculty and staff on campus are providing to support students in their experience, such as early alerts and encouragements. A student engages with various members of faculty and staff over the course of a term. All of these interactions may potentially reveal important information about a student who may be struggling. When the observed behaviors or information learned is reported, institutions can kick-off a series of designed interventions to support the student. And then, at the end of a term, be able to evaluate the impact of those interventions based on the different types of information gathered.

When institutions track these seven metrics, they’re able to gain a much more comprehensive and holistic view of the individual student experience, which then provides a greater understanding of their unique student population. With this robust understanding at both levels, campuses are better able to guide students in their journey from admission to graduation.


Photo of Emily Siegel

Emily Siegel

Student Success Consultant | Campus Labs

With over a decade of higher education experience in the areas of admissions, advising, and retention, Emily is passionate about partnering with campuses to evolve their impact on student success. Prior to joining Campus Labs, Emily served as the Director of Student Success at Chestnut Hill College where she spearheaded the institution’s retention efforts, implemented an early-alert system, and oversaw the advising program. Prior to that, she held roles in enrollment management at the University of Pennsylvania and Concordia University, St. Paul where she developed various programs to support the student experience, including strategic communication plans, peer mentoring, and parent programming. Emily holds a BA in liberal studies and an MA in human services.