Student Success, Basic Needs, and the COVID-19 Pandemic
Institutional Research Perspectives on Holistic Student Success Metrics
This year has undoubtedly been marked with unprecedented challenges for higher education, as we and others have documented through ever-building evidence from students, faculty, and administrators alike. As colleges and universities work to maintain enrollment, retention, and student learning outcomes, they are grappling with how to better understand and address the challenges their students are facing. The growing urgency to support students holistically—that is, supporting students not just as learners but as people who may be struggling to meet their basic needs—has prompted many institutions to consider expanding their data collection efforts beyond what is mandated by funding and accreditation.
Last month, we published the first report in a series on how metrics of student success are currently prioritized, defined, quantified, and used in the community college sector. In parallel with this review of the current policy and practice landscape, we conducted semi-structured interviews with leaders in Institutional Research (IR) and Institutional Effectiveness (IE) offices to gauge how they currently collect and report student data and understand their willingness to expand these processes to embed more holistic approaches. Naturally, much of these conversations also centered on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Several IR and IE directors mentioned that their institution does not collect data on student basic needs like housing or food security, primarily due to historical precedence—that is, it wasn’t done before, so it isn’t done now. Others mentioned that while their institution does collect holistic metrics, these data are collected and housed by other departments. Many departments within student and academic affairs conduct their own surveys and assessments of student needs and challenges, utilizing these data to better support students and provide resources. These data are generally not centralized or standardized through the IR or IE departments in the same way that occurs with federally-required data collection and reporting.
However, IR and IE directors are considerably open to expanding the data their institution collects, particularly surrounding students’ basic needs, technological device and connectivity needs, and engagement. Indeed, to assess the impact of COVID-19, many participating colleges administered multiple surveys throughout the spring semester to gain a better understanding of students’ immediate needs, including technological device and connectivity access, satisfaction with their courses, and intentions for the fall semester.
What challenges do directors anticipate in doing this work? Many worry about a possible duplication of efforts across campus units given existing data collection taking place outside of IR and IE offices. And, of course, they face challenges associated with a lack of resources—personnel to collect, analyze, and report on additional data elements; personnel with the right skillset to do this work; and systems for housing these data.
We are currently surveying community college provosts nationally to understand how the strategy for these data collection processes has been shaped, where there is space to shift that strategy, and what it would take to do so. As we continue with this project, we will address several key questions:
- What holistic student success metrics—like engagement, well-being, and basic needs security—do community colleges currently collect but don’t report out? Is there interest in additional data collection?
- Which units of the college currently collect holistic student metrics? Are there opportunities for greater data centralization or cross-institutional collaboration?
- What external organizations, such as accreditors, third party research organizations, and data collection agencies, most influence the selection and prioritization of student success metrics?
- What are the biggest resource constraints facing colleges when they seek to expand data collection to include more holistic metrics?
Has your college begun to think differently about student success data collection due to the global pandemic? Is your college considering a broader set of metrics? Please get in touch via email (Melissa.Blankstein@ithaka.org) or below in the comments to share about your evolving practices.