Why the Student Success Administrator is the Most Important Role in Higher Ed

September 12, 2022 Watermark Insights

In order for a higher education institution to be a well-oiled machine, attention needs to be paid to all of the moving parts. From top administration to faculty and staff, each role within the college system is important to its overall success. Perhaps one of the most vital roles within a higher education institution is that of the Student Success Administrator.

The Student Success Administrator oversees the student success program, identifies its priorities, and leads the student success team in its efforts across the broader campus. The fundamental role of the Student Success Administrator is to marshal data collected, set goals and priorities for student retention and success, reorganize the systems currently in place, or implement new systems that will assist the institution in achieving those goals.

It has become increasingly clear during the global COVID-19 pandemic that the need for a Student Success Administrator is now more important than ever. According to the Education Data Initiative, a non-profit organization composed of a team of researchers seeking to make data about the U.S. education system more open & accessible, the overall dropout rate for undergraduate college students is 40%. A staggering 30% of dropouts occur between the freshman and sophomore years. Black students make up the majority of dropouts, coming in at a rate of 54%.

Given research findings that show a strong correlation between education and income levels, it is imperative that students across the country have access to higher education. The “college wage premium,” defined as the higher wages earned due to a higher education degree, can be significant. A 2017 economic report by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that in 2013 the median income for a family whose head of household had a high school diploma was $41,190 annually. In turn, the median income for a family whose head of household had either a 2-year or 4-year higher education degree was $76,293. The report states, “Research shows that this premium has grown over time. In addition, in general, the more skills people have, the more employable they are. As a result, workers with more education have a lower average unemployment rate than those with less education.”

How, then, do colleges and universities ensure the success of their students, given the challenges that students face, particularly underserved students, within and outside of the campus setting?

In a recently published Chronicle of Higher Education article titled “Bringing People Together to Help Students Thrive,” author Beth McMurtrie writes that, “concerns over equity have led colleges to pay more attention to how their first-generation students, low-income students, and students of color are faring. Meanwhile, the impending decline in the number of high-school graduates has forced colleges to focus more intently on retaining the students they have. And increased sophistication of higher-education data and analytics, which can pinpoint problem areas for a student, gives colleges more tools at their disposal to help struggling undergraduates.

“In short, higher education is bringing new attention to the many ways in which students can get tripped up inside and outside class, and how best to help them.”

This is where the Student Success Administrator comes in. The Student Success Administrator is no small job, and sample job descriptions are a tall order!

Position Summary:

As the leading strategist regarding student’s achieving their academic, career, and financial goals (enrollment, retention, persistence, credential completion, and economic mobility strategies), academic and financial aid advising, student financial stability, career coaching, academic student support, and engagement with college experience, the Student Success Administrator is responsible for the development and implementation of applicable academic policies and processes. Works collaboratively with faculty, staff, students, across departments, and in the community to advise students, thus promoting student success, completion, and satisfaction.

The Student Success Administrator must maintain a student-centered focus within the department, understand all retention functions and resources within the college, and continually work to improve these functions, understand, and manage all student processes and procedures facilitated by the department. In addition, support students from orientation to graduation; Build, supervise, and maintain a cohesive team by providing strong leadership, training, support, and oversight. Manages the day-to-day operations, conducts strategic planning, sets the mission and vision based on the College and the Office of the AVP of Student Success to create an environment that emphasizes evidence-based student success coaching and advising strategies with specific attention to equity in outcomes; is based on proven best practice and high-impact retention strategies for community colleges.

However, the right Student Success Administrator and their team can determine strategies for the financial, mental health, and academic roadblocks that students face in order to advocate for proactive solutions to help students overcome their challenges and ultimately achieve academic success.

At present, student-success experts find that on many campuses there is not a cohesive, centralized office that looks at data aggregated from departments across campus, including enrollment, financial aid, advising, and academics. With these departments working individually rather than collaboratively, it is difficult to identify and stem the tide of issues that may start in one area, such as financial aid, and flow into another, such as the inability to complete courses because of the financial need to work, in order to advance within degree programs. Additionally, what students face outside of the classroom is rarely known by faculty and administrators, making it difficult to properly identify and support underserved students.

In these cases, comprehensive data and analytics can play a big part in student, and ultimately institutional, success.

Early Warning Systems help Student Success Administrators Succeed

Early Warning Systems (EWS) that use predictive analytics allow Student Success Administrators to anticipate issues on campus before they occur. Integration software, such as Watermark Student Success & Engagement software (formerly Aviso),  integrates every major student information, learning management, financial and survey systems commonly seen in higher education, minimizing the institutional effort needed on integration and allowing Student Success Administrators the time to focus on process optimization. Predictive software, such as Watermark Student Success & Engagement software, is then able to flag students who are at-risk for not completing a course imperative to their certificate or degree and begin proactive interventions. Using known data about students allows the Student Success Administrator and their team to not only determine which students might benefit from success coaching but also can help identify what challenges a student might be facing both inside and outside of the classroom.

It has been shown that engaged students are more successful. Engagement technology, such as Watermark Student Success & Engagement software, is an equity solution that makes it easy for the Student Success Administrator and their team to reach out to students, help identify the issues preventing students from succeeding, and develop strategies to address those issues.

Taking a People, Process, Technology Approach

Using a holistic approach to student success and equity, by collaborating with an organization such as Watermark, allows higher education institutions to solve some of the biggest problems that colleges and universities face: keeping students engaged, increasing the chances of student success, and increasing student retention rates.

This can be accomplished through a solid People, Process, and Technology approach. To be successful in their work, a Student Success Administrator must have the following skillsets:

  • People - Relationship-building abilities and influence across financial aid, advising, academic support, and career service departments to collaborate and help people work together to accomplish a similar goal -- helping the students and achieving widespread adoption of implemented technologies.
  • Process - Marshaling data, reorganizing systems, and setting priorities.
  • Technology - Increasing the sophistication of higher-ed data and analytics.

Student Success Administrators with the above experience have the dexterity to take these skills and build a student success program that is accepted and successfully implemented campus-wide, ultimately leading to greater success ratios and ROI for the institution.

“Watermark has accelerated our focus on student success and it has allowed for a valuable intersection between our faculty and staff, our processes and procedures, and our technology. With Watermark, we are better able to provide timely intervention when needed, connect students to resources to help them succeed, and create new means of communication and transparency across campus.”

— Gene Smith, President, Brunswick Community College, Ranked #1 out of 820 Community Colleges in America. An 82% graduation and transfer rate is part of why they ranked as the nation’s number one community college in America for the second year in a row.

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