Student Success Best Practices: The Perfect Combination

April 18, 2022 Watermark Insights



Our Vice President for Client Success, Heather Taynor, is highly regarded in higher education and student success best practices with over 18+ years in various higher education roles. Heather’s expertise in higher education includes a full range of operational functions with an emphasis on building, developing and training successful teams supporting students throughout the student lifecycle. We’ve curated some of her research-based best practices and training materials and turned them into a blog series to share with institutions along with additional research and work from our Watermark (formerly Aviso Retention) Data Science team. The ultimate goal is to equip individuals with the ability to create and execute student success strategies that offer long-term benefits for the institution and their students. 

The first piece in this series starts with a high-level overview of student success strategy best practices and will serve as the foundation for the series.

With retention and degree completion so critical to higher education today, student success has a direct impact to the institution’s success. Aligning the institution to support and achieve student success can be daunting for some institutions. We understand that it takes much time and effort for an institution to ensure clear pathways are established for their students to succeed.

A first step for institutions focused on improving student success outcomes is to clearly develop the institution’s definition of success. Once the definitions have been established, the institution can begin developing a truly student-focused strategy. The institution should align these student-centered strategies to holistically focus on the student lifecycle and those most critical to student success. In addition, all parts of the institution’s strategy must work together to support successful student outcomes.

In this blog post, we will take a deeper look into the need for institutions to align themselves to more effectively support their students by beginning with their overall student success strategy and focusing on three pillars: People, Process, and Technology. 





While technology is crucial in accelerating the focus on student success, there does need to be continuous education and communication to the people (staff/faculty) with clear processes and expectations in place. Institutions should promote transparency among departments and a holistic approach to student success. The strategy should focus on a strong student-centered process focused on a commitment to excellence where people understand how they can best support students, what needs to be done to help students succeed, and ultimately what is in the best interest of students.



Students and colleges succeed with their people. Success starts with an organizational commitment to student success and strategic direction in place to help accelerate the focus on more effectively supporting students. There also must be provided support from the top down on how to make sure that the institution succeeds with their people.

Institutions must:

  • Understand why retention and student success are so critical and become the responsibility of everyone at the institution
  • Identify and hire student success champions
  • Set clear expectations
  • Establish a clear strategic direction where people understand their part so that the ongoing adoption of the process and support technology can be successful

Bottom line — there must be institutional alignment and reasonable goals set in order to be successful.



Having a clear understanding of your business process is essential for determining goals and steps for moving forward with a student success strategy.

  • Develop an institutional student success strategy focused on increased student support.
  • Review current business processes and establish student-focused change where necessary
  • Develop a coordinated and personalized student outreach strategy and communication plan
  • Ensure strong communication and cross-departmental collaboration
  • Track and document outcomes, resources, referrals, and interventions
  • Combine human intelligence, artificial intelligence, and data to more efficiently communicate with students and provide the most impactful resources, referrals, and interventions
  • Gather information, prioritize outreach efforts and develop a plan each day



Each institution has its own DNA to which they must create the best process for their institution. At each institution, predictor variables, outreach and advising strategies, institutional initiatives, and success definitions may differ. Aligning the processes with the goals and strategy of the institution will lead to more effective results.

Support software can assist with departmental collaboration to work together more effectively. The use of the support software allows for documentation of student interactions to share essential information. The goal is to improve student support and services by having more integrated and efficient ways to track academic progress, identify concerns, and connect students with services they may need.

Technology helps to combine human intelligence, artificial intelligence, and data to more efficiently communicate with students and provide the most impactful resources, referrals, and interventions. Data-informed success coaching is essential to provide the best service possible to students.

In order for advisors and success coaches to shift their outreach efforts to be more proactive and transformational, they must have the data and technology available in order to optimize their time with students. Historical information, notes, and predictive risk indicators can be combined to help them prepare for the most effective outreach and intervention strategies to assist students.

In closing, we know that software alone is not the answer. It takes the perfect combination of People, Process, and Technology to help accelerate the focus on student success and increase efficiencies. The collective strategy allowing process and people to lead institutional change and the software to be the tool to help achieve the goals will drive the results needed for the institution.

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