Focusing on Student Success

When I was working at another institution, my Vice President once defined “student success” by saying that she wanted our students to “get their degree, get a job, and leave us loving the institution.” There’s something to this, in that it’s very concise and practical, and focuses on measurable outcomes like graduation and employment rates, and alumni satisfaction. Similarly, the contemporary public conversation on college student success has focused on certain institutional outcomes. For example, you can access the College Scorecard, which is maintained by the Department of Education, and see publicly available information on key performance indicators for US colleges and universities.

This focus on measurable outcomes is understandable. College is expensive, and people have a right to transparency regarding an institution’s track record in helping students to get a return on their educational investment. And I would be remiss if I didn’t state that Wheaton has excellent outcomes, of which we are very proud. However, I believe that there is more to student success than simply producing happily employed alumni. If that was the full measure of success, then we should be able to delineate a clear road map for students to get to that destination. We could hand that map to them on the first day of freshman year and say, “follow this and you’ll get to the finish line.” But life is complicated, and living well and successfully is a difficult and ever-changing task. Wheaton College is committed to preparing students to be successful in taking on all of life’s challenges, and one of the ways that we do that is through excellent advising.

Advising is a form of teaching. Good advisors teach success skills like how to fulfill degree requirements, access campus resources, and meet the expectations of college-level work. Great advisors teach students about creatively engaging with tough questions like how to reconcile a profound love of art history with the imperative to make a living after graduation. We don’t give students answers to these questions, but we can teach them how to come up with their own. One contemporary leader in student development, Marcia Baxter-Magolda, refers to this as developing a student’s capacity for “self-authorship.” Advisors can help students to learn how to be successful over the course of their whole lives by helping them to become the authors of their own stories.

The Filene Center is one of the main hubs for this type of transformational advising at Wheaton College. We have Academic Advising, Accessibility Services, Career Services and Tutoring all in one place. This allows us to take a truly holistic and integrative approach to student success. For example, when a student is deciding on an academic major, the very next question will be something like, “what can I do with that major?” There is no bright line that separates academic and career advising. The integrated team at the Filene Center recognizes this reality and the staff work closely to ensure that all of a student’s advising needs are met.

The Filene Center is doing other things to make sure that we continue to develop practices that are as effective and student-centered as possible. We have recently restructured our Academic Advising staff so that students can continue to work with the same advisor over the whole course of their time at Wheaton. Students’ needs often change over the course of their college careers, and a stable relationship with the same advisor can help to build trust and improve access to support services. The Filene Center is also engaging in a two-year self-study with a national advising professional organization that will help us to further improve our student success practices.

We’re always looking for ways to continue to learn more, grow and improve our services. One thing never changes though – we are always here to support your students and their success in college and beyond. Please be sure to encourage your student to stop by the Filene Center. They don’t have to have a problem to come and see us, and if they do connect with us, we can definitely help them to get the most value out of their Wheaton experience.

—Andrew Brereton, Ph.D., Executive Dean of Student Success