New Perspectives: Reaching the Top 3 Markers of Postsecondary Student Success

By Mike StaffordSeptember 18, 2017

The industry recognizes student success as a central theme and focus. It’s an umbrella term, covering many facets of the college experience — from planning to completion. And it can mean different things depending on the topic at hand or person’s unique perspective. This also makes it ripe for scrutiny. It’s a reason why regulatory bodies have stepped in to help define student success metrics and oversee completion rates and other such goals.

But what’s perhaps most interesting is how postsecondary students, themselves, define success. Just as meeting compliance is important, so, too, is meeting student goals and expectations. Here are the student success metrics that EDU marketers and institutions should be taking into consideration – as defined from the most important perspective of all: the students. 

#1 Student Success Metric: Earning a Desirable Income
Student populations are diverse. We’re talking about a group with many different backgrounds, experiences and future goals. However, earning a sufficient income is a key marker of success for students across the board. In particular, part-time students and those over 30 years old place extra emphasis on the need to make sufficient money.

Fortunately for these students, the average starting pay for new college grads has never been higher than it is right now. Reaching nearly $50,000, those graduating this year will make 3 percent more than 2016 graduates. When compared to pre-Recession salaries of 2007, today’s graduates earn 14 percent more.

That’s encouraging news. However, it’s up to EDU marketers and institutions to further prove post-graduate earnings and assist college-goers in making informed decisions in order to generate the best student outcomes possible. Here’s how.

  • Underscore STEM degree programs. Starting salaries in science, tech, engineering, and math (STEM) are higher than average. Software developers earn the highest starting salary at $65,000+. Engineers and actuaries also are big earners right out of college, reaching the $60,000 threshold as well. These programs should be readily discussed with EDU leads and highlighted on marketing materials.
  • Turn web portals into comprehensive resources. Portals are effective recruiting tools. They can also play an important role in college planning, helping EDU leads make a clear connection between degrees and desired careers and salaries. While qualifying leads and nudging them further along in funnels, it’s also a strong first step in any program path and toward reaching a student’s intended income level post-graduation.

The U.S. Department of Education's College Scorecard and third-party college salary reports are helpful additions to any portal. Such independent and trusted sources can help manage expectations and communicate all costs, like comparing student debts versus true earning potential. 

  • Offer long-term guidance. Income might not be the #1 metric for success for incoming freshman. However, this often changes closer to graduation. Salary is something that impacts every student. As such, it should be a common thread in college guidance counseling practices and a growing conversation throughout a student’s four years.

#2 Student Success Metric: Following a Passion
“Doing what makes me happy” came in as the second most important metric for student success, according to postsecondary students. Feeling fulfilled was especially important to the female student base and younger groups.

From an industry perspective, determining and cultivating a student’s passion takes time and experience. There are many ways students can gain experience throughout their college career and get a step ahead. Here are three programs EDU marketers can highlight in the recruitment process to help prospective students ultimately reach their happiness goal. It’s a strategy that can certainly lead to more positive outcomes.

  • Dual enrollment programs: Targeting those still in high school, such programs allow students to begin the discovery process at an earlier stage — to truly determine whether a program is their real passion. Once full-time, they will be on a much more defined path, having already earned a number of college credits. There is also more of a buffer should someone change direction and study something different.
  • Apprenticeships: These programs bridge the gap between completing school and securing a job. Many employers will even pay for college credit, which makes pursuing a passion less risky and graduating on time more realistic.
  • Internships: Often unpaid, internships can be a priceless opportunity to get real-world experience — putting a passion and what students learn in the classroom to the test. This invaluable experience readies a student for post-graduation life and allows them to engage in passion projects while still in school.

#3 Student Success Metric: Making a Difference
Students ranked “helping other people” as a third important marker of success. What this means from person to person can vary tremendously. Nonetheless, the disparity in ranking across groups is small for this category.

EDU marketers and institutions can support this definition of student success in a number of ways. Some examples.

  • Emphasize degree programs in healthcare. For some students, helping others is directly associated with a career in the medical field. Not only will these degree paths meet humanitarian goals, but help students reach success in other ways. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 13 of the 20 fastest-growing occupations are in the medical field. Healthcare is also expected to offer the highest number of new jobs between 2014-24, proving endless opportunity for those seeking to help others.
  • Highlight alternative degree pathways. The medical field can seem daunting to some, as many roles require a decade or more of study, instruction and training. It’s important for marketers and institutions to communicate other roles in the field — like a medical assistant certification — that can be completed within a few years.
  • Share student volunteer opportunities. Maintaining student engagement from matriculation to graduation can be tough. For students interested in making a difference, giving back to the community along with peers can foster a positive college experience. This can play an important role in retention and overall student outcomes.

Higher Education Student Success Initiatives
When it comes to student success, there’s much to consider. There’s compliance. Changing expectations. New tools and technology. However, it’s critical that EDU marketers and postsecondary institutions don’t lose sight of what’s important to students. True student success will always include the student perspective.


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