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Evaluating Student Success In Higher Education: A Plea For Needs Assessment

Evaluating Student Success in Higher Education: A Plea for Needs Assessment

By Jessica Osborne

The concept of student success is still a relatively new phenomenon. Its historical origins stem from federal legislation increasing higher education access, such as the 1944 Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (G.I. Bill), that provided higher education access to veterans, and the Higher Education Act of 1965, that established guidelines for access and financial assistance for postsecondary education. Discussions of student success in the literature began in the 1970s, focused on institutional retention rates (Astin, 1975), and the Federal Student Right-to-Know and Campus Security Act of 1991 brought student success fully to life with its emphasis on institutional requirements to publish data on educational program quality.

Since then, there have been a plethora of additional legislation, amendments, programs, and research on the topic of student success in higher education, including amendments to the Higher Education Act and Pell Grant programs. Research has included pinnacle articles from Tinto and Bean (1993) providing theoretical models on student development and retention and recent studies on motivation, mindset and self-efficacy, just to name a few (Dweck, 2006; Moore, Armstrong & Pearson, 2008; van Dinther, Dochy, Segers, 2011).

One area of student success research that has been lacking is understanding what students truly need. There have been a few studies to address this, but most focus on specific student populations (Mirzoev 2014; Tuononen et al., 2019), and very few postsecondary institutions spend enough time considering who their students are, what they need, and how best to serve those needs on the individual level.

A potential low-cost, low effort method to assess student needs exists in Altschuld’s (2015) Asset and Capacity Building Needs Assessment. This model is well suited for current higher education contexts focused anti-deficit and strengths-based frameworks and could be implemented in institutions of higher education to gain a better understanding of student needs in relationship to institutional assets and capacities.

With relatively minimal time and personnel, institutions can adopt simple needs assessment methods, such as two-way focus groups and pulse surveys, to gain a better understanding of their students and how to meet their needs. Armed with this information, institutions can make better choices and create programs more likely to help students succeed.

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