Campus-based Practices for Promoting Student Success


Transparent Pathways, Clear Outcomes: Using Disciplinary Tuning to Improve Teaching, Learning, and Student Success

MHEC was awarded a $415,000, two-year grant from Lumina Foundation to engage college and university faculty in Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri to “tune” the academic disciplines of psychology and marketing. “Tuning” is a process through which faculty members create shared understandings of the knowledge and transferable skills students in specific academic disciplines and professional fields must demonstrate upon completion of their degrees. The process helps to clarify to students, parents, and policymakers what degree holders know, understand, and are able to do. See also the Competencies Supplement for marketing and psychology.

Determinants of Student Success: An Integrative Perspective to Orient Policy and Practice

This brief elaborates three social-psychological factors that influence student success during college: goal commitment, academic engagement, and social identification. A robust understanding of these factors is crucial to effectively designing and evaluating institutional policies and practices conducive to student success.

Effective Pedagogy

This research brief examines several pedagogies that are more effective than conventional approaches, including collaborative learning involving small groups of students, problem-based learning, service learning, mastery learning, and computer-based instruction. 

Recommended Practices

  • Minimize the use of lecturing.
  • Incorporate cooperative learning, problem-based learning, and service-learning throughout the curriculum to enhance academic engagement and achievement.
  • Adopt mastery learning to promote the acquisition of knowledge and skills, particularly for students with low academic aptitude. The pace of instruction should be set by the instructor rather than the student. 
  • Promote the adoption of hybrid courses – the combination of online and face-to-face learning to increase academic achievement and potentially reduce costs. The online component should be reserved for the transmission of knowledge and the facilitation of collaborative learning.
  • Identify and implement methods to reduce withdrawal rates of students in purely online courses, such as administering an online-learning skills assessment prior to course enrollment; providing an orientation program for skill development; using collaborative learning to increase social integration; and ensuring that students and faculty have access to course support services.

Financial Aid

This brief summarizes key findings from research on grant aid and work-study programs.

Recommended Practices

  • Minimize the use of loans in financial aid packages.
  • Target students with high financial need to maximize the effect of grant aid.
  • Consider front-loading grant aid during the first half of the college program.
  • Ensure that aid packages do not inadvertently force students to work more than 15 hours per week.
  • Provide aid during intersessions (e.g., winter, summer, J-term, May term) to promote continuous enrollment.
  • Provide sites for high-value work-study experiences that inform academic coursework, promote civic service, build social capital, and foster work skills and achievements relevant to vocational aspirations.
  • Ensure that work-study programs provide a living wage.

Faculty Policy Issues 

This brief examines key issues that confront institutional leaders in creating faculty policies conducive to student success, including employment status, faculty roles and reward systems, and faculty development.

Recommended Practices

  • Establish an appropriate balance of full-time and part-time faculty that preserves educational quality.
  • Ensure that part-time faculty receive adequate institutional support that promotes effective pedagogies, high expectations for student outcomes, time for course preparation, and both time and space for interactions with students outside of class.
  • Ensure that promotional criteria are consistent with the instructional mission of the institution, such as assigning equitable status to indicators of effective teaching in tenure and promotion reviews.
  • Consider providing alternative pathways for faculty who wish to specialize in teaching, research, or both. Evaluate the extent to which workload differentiation enhances productivity, job satisfaction, and student outcomes.
  • Incentivize participation in faculty development programs to ensure that instructors are capable of implementing effective pedagogies.

Developmental Education

This brief provides a summary of research on policy and program reforms that may improve developmental education and the outcomes of underprepared students, including establishing appropriate program requirements, refining the student placement process, improving the quality of developmental curricula, and incorporating support services.

Recommended Practices

  • Ensure that program requirements reflect the appropriate levels of English language and math skills that students will need to succeed in academic disciplines, occupational contexts, and civic roles. Mathematics requirements, in particular, should be differentiated between Liberal Arts and STEM majors.
  • Use multiple measures to assess the college readiness of new students, such as a combination of standardized test scores and high school GPA. Ensure that students realize the high stakes associated with standardized assessment tests and that they are well-prepared for the exams. Evaluate the potential utility of measuring non-cognitive traits as indicators of college readiness.
  • Utilize summer bridge programs to provide students with opportunities to better prepare for placement exams and address any remedial needs prior to fall term enrollment.  Consider extending similar opportunities to first-time students who enroll during the spring term.
  • Encourage or mandate enrollment in student success courses for students who lack skills needed to adapt to the academic, emotional, and social demands of college.
  • Ensure that developmental curricula minimally affect time to degree while adequately preparing students for college-level coursework. Design options include acceleration, course compression, and modularization.
  • Utilize instructional models that optimize academic engagement, such as contextualized instruction.
  • Establish strong connections between developmental curricula and support services that target students’ multiple needs: academic, career, financial, social, and emotional. This may include such services as counseling, tutoring, mentoring, and advising as well as financial aid policies that address the cost-aid gap. Consider providing students with guided pathways that clearly identify the steps towards degree completion.


Software Solutions

This brief provides an overview of student success software and summarizes findings from the nascent body of student outcomes research. Three types of software solutions are examined: academic planning systems, task engagement systems, and early alert systems. Several campus practices are then identified that may facilitate software adoption.

Recommended Practices

  • The impact of any particular software product will partly depend upon whether software adoption advances the college’s student success strategy. Colleges should conduct a needs assessment to identify software products that address actual problems in academic planning, task engagement, and feedback.
  • Project team members should fulfill three types of roles: content masters, influencers, and decision makers.
  • Promote campus buy-in through the support and participation of senior leadership, stakeholders, and possible end-users, such as the president, vice president, provost, chief information officer, director of institutional research, the college business office, faculty, staff, and students.
  • Cultivate trust in the project team by maintaining openness and transparency at all stages.
  • Pilot test product options to confirm the presence of desired improvements and identify needs for training and resources.
  • Consider whether product adoption will require any changes in institutional policies and procedures. Address product integration problems before implementation.
  • Ensure that software vendors are willing to provide the level of technical support needed.
  • Budget time and resources for the total cost of software adoption, including post-launch implementation, product refinement, and outcomes evaluation. A Total Cost of Ownership analysis should be conducted to identify the hidden costs of software adoption (e.g., personnel, facilities, system upgrades).


Counseling Services

The purpose of this research brief is to provide an overview of mental health issues and counseling services on college campuses. The findings from several national surveys are reviewed to estimate the prevalence of anxiety and depression, suicide and suicidal ideation, and violence among college students. Common prevention and treatment programs are then described with particular attention to innovative campus-wide programs. Student outcomes research is examined to determine whether receiving counseling services is associated with academic performance and the likelihood of graduation. The brief concludes with a set of recommended practices to improve the effectiveness of counseling services on campus.

Recommended Practices

Basic Functions

  • Maintain counseling services as an “in-house” service and provide adequate financial and administrative support for counseling center treatment and prevention programs (e.g., suicide prevention), psychoeducational events (e.g., stress reduction), faculty and staff training, and program evaluation (Brunner et al., 2014; Drum & Denmark, 2012).  
  • Clearly delineate the duties of academic and career advising from counseling and psychological services (Bundy & Benshoff, 2000; Reetz et al., 2014).  
  • Establish a strong outreach function in the counseling services center to educate students, staff, faculty, and parents about the early symptoms of mental illness, availability of relevant campus resources, and issues regarding client confidentiality (Mowbray et al., 2006).
  • Build reliable partnerships and referral systems with off-campus service providers who can attend to students whose treatment needs exceed campus resources. Counseling center staff should be charged with ensuring that students referred for services outside of the counseling center are successful in connecting with a mental health provider (Mowbray et al., 2006).
  • Allow the counseling center to be administratively autonomous to avoid using scarce resources to respond to campus requests for confidential student information. Many state and federal laws as well as ethical codes require or mandate the confidentiality of student information obtained through counseling services (IACS, 2014; Sokolow et al., 2009).  


  • Ensure the counseling center is properly staffed with a ratio of at least 1 mental health professional staff member per 1,000 to 1,500 students (International Association of Counseling Services (IACS), 2014; Hardy et al., 2011; Mowbray et al., 2006).
  • Provide for and require continuing education for all professional staff to ensure the use of current evidence-based therapies (Joffe, 2008; Lee, 2005). Continuing education should also be used to improve the ability of support staff to direct students to appropriate resources (Mowbray et al., 2006).

Programmatic Considerations

  • Ensure that the campus crisis prevention and response system (a) allows students with urgent care needs to make counseling appointments within 24 hours; (b) notifies parents of a crisis with prior informed consent or facilitates notification by the student; (c) establishes a protocol for using campus security; and (d) contains a plan for debriefing students, faculty, and staff after an incident (Mowbray et al., 2006).
  • Enhance the cost-effectiveness of counseling services by utilizing self-help resources whenever supported by empirical research (Mowbray et al., 2006). Self-help resources without therapist contact may require periodic usage prompts (Clarke et al., 2005).
  • Facilitate continuity of care through a seamless referral system that coordinates counseling services, campus health services, and disability services (Mowbray et al., 2006).
  • Current and prospective student clients should participate in program development and evaluation processes to improve the utilization of counseling services (Mowbray et al., 2006).


  • The counseling services center should be centrally located on campus while ensuring that the public cannot discern which students are clients. Students should be able schedule appointments during normal business hours as well as during evenings and weekends (Mowbray et al., 2006).
  • Implement a “no wrong door” policy that provides multiple pathways for students to request mental health services beyond the counseling services center, including the disability services center, residential halls, and the campus medical clinic (Mowbray et al., 2006).