Leadership In Higher Education

Blueprint to Creating A Student Success Strategic Plan

Retention is key in your institution’s success and there are many things happening in higher education that affect it. The Supreme Court is deciding on affirmative action, the recession may yield reduced enrolments, or it may increase them, analysts are predicting shifts towards micro credentials, and on average, schools have seen increased staff turnover. It’s all very confusing and overwhelming. 

In an uncertain and shifting industry, delivering your students a consistent and excellent education is more difficult. As with any business, having a strong plan can be the key differentiator. This article will provide you with key ideas you can use to create your strategic plan for student success.

When creating a strategic plan for student success, it is integral to take a holistic view. Not only of your students, but also how they interact with the school, and what policies and procedures can be implemented for their benefit. In higher ed, the necessity to streamline and optimize operations is a given- but if you cannot attract and retain students, you cannot succeed. Therefore, your students’ success is your success.


Connection is key in higher ed. Students who feel connected to their school and believe that it has their best interests in mind are more likely to graduate. Being proactive in creating relationships between students will increase the retention and esteem of your school.

For the student, everything revolves around the classroom. Therefore, all supplemental instruction and administrator touch-points are essential to support the core value driver for students. 

Develop Key Relationships

Developing student-administrator and student-professor relationships can have an enormous effect on student retention and success. When an instructor is encouraged (and given the time) to spend time with students in a more casual setting, the rewards can be substantial.

A professor who knows his students, or at the very least, knows what students need, will invariably outperform the professor who simply delivers lectures and halfhearted office hours. Of course, hiring plays a significant role in this; there are also benefits to be had from creating opportunities for these connections.

Many schools host informal lectures on popular topics; these can be excellent opportunities for a more conversational interaction between students and their professors. In these discussion forums, there is an increased ability for rapport building as well as bi-directional communication which is not always possible in a formal lecture setting. A continuation of this can take the form of other events and opportunities for students and their instructors to connect.

This is important because when an instructor truly knows their students, they can be the first line of defence when it comes to recognizing a struggling student. Yes, any instructor can know when a student is performing poorly from grading papers, but oftentimes there are symptoms of underachievement present before the poor grade. Is the student not attending class? Are they less prepared than they otherwise should be? A course instructor has the ability to judge whether or not a student is performing at an expected level and intervene early if necessary. Training instructors to watch for the first signs of a struggling student can be an enormous asset to your retention plan.

Another relationship that will bring large benefits if cultivated is that between students and administrators. If an academic advisor meets consistently with a student, they will (as with the involved professor) be able to assess when a student is struggling.


Covid taught us that virtual meetings are both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, they allow us to meet with greater ease and frequency than ever before. However, we can also lose the interactivity that is only possible through in-person meetings. Many schools have adopted hybrid programs that seek to maximize the benefits of each. 

By creating a hybrid system, you increase the likelihood of delivering the assistance needed to students in a way that they find most accessible. The core benefit of this is that it increases the amount of time a student came spend developing a relationship with an administrator. Because of the efficiencies brought by virtual conferencing, the time investment on the part of the staff is not directly proportional to the meetings they attend. 

Many institutions have found online schooling and adminstration to be of major budgetary benefit. However, as mentioned, and as you have probably experienced, there is no replacing in-person interaction. 

Streamline Student Support Workflows

Workflows are a dull and multifaceted topic. However, they are incredibly important to the overall function and form of your institution. Whether or not they are intentionally created, all higher ed institutions have workflows. Defined simply, a workflow is the methodology with which an organization executes tasks. 

One of the core components of a strong workflow is communication. Not just communication within departments but also between them. Ask yourself, if one department needs to refer a student to another department, how could that process be optimized and streamlined? 

Student Data

Trackable metrics are invaluable to higher ed. Through data, we are able to access individual student performance as well as the performance of entire student cohorts or the student body overall. Tracking GPA and graduation rates is clearly top-of-mind. However, we might also suggest tracking metrics causal to those data points. For example, tracking the number of tutoring sessions booked can indicate which courses students are struggling with and allow you to intervene before the end of the semester.

Early Alerts are the future of student success management. When an Early Alert System is properly created, it will inform the relevant administrators when a student is underperforming. 


Upon implementing these tactics, your institution can more effectively form relationships between administration, faculty, and students. This is of enormous importance; students who feel supported by and connected to their institution are more likely to graduate. 

With relevant and timely data, you can make informed administrative decisions that can, when aggregated across your entire student population, create significant positive change. Early alerts are the latest tool in the successful institution’s toolbox.

Unfortunately, many schools are attracted to the idea of using an AI-driven early alert system. An AI system is only as good as the individual who programmed it. AI systems have also been shown to create false flags based on a student’s racial, economic, and geographical background. This not only exemplifies structural issues within higher education, but it also is a drain on a school’s resources (time and money). 

The current recession will undoubtedly have an affect on enrollment rates, as will much of the political and legal discussions of the day. The bottom line is that if you provide your students with a high-quality education and proactively support them, you will be fulfilling your duty as an educator and succeeding as an organization.

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