Looking at Student “Grit” and Resilience – from Recruitment to Retention

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Series: Managing the Student Lifecycle
This new series convenes expert perspectives on student success and predictive analytics. We hope to empower enrollment managers, student affairs professionals, deans, and faculty to think deeper about their student data, predictors of success, and managing the student lifecycle holistically from recruitment to retention to completion.

Earlier in this series:
Improving Student Success Can't Be a One-Office Effort
Developing a Metrics-Driven Culture within Student Affairs
It's Not Just About the First and Second Year of College

by Paul Marthers, Associate Vice Chancellor/Vice Provost for Enrollment Management and Student Success, SUNY

Paul Marthers photo (Associate Vice Chancellor, SUNY)We need to be thinking about the non-cognitive factors in student success from the very beginning, from the admissions cycle on.

In higher education, there is growing recognition that scholastic achievement is the result of more than just talent and cognitive ability. Studies have shown that the non-cognitive skill we call effort also plays a critical role. MacArthur Fellow and University of Pennsylvania Professor Angela Lee Duckworth has found through her research that effort is highly influenced by a psychological characteristic she calls “grit.” Grit, according to Duckworth, is the ability to persevere in the face of difficulty.

Duckworth's research has sparked an explosion of articles, studies, and even courses (including one at the Harvard Graduate School of Education) that explore how non-cognitive factors like grit, and its close cousin "resilience," affect student achievement. At colleges and universities, there has been renewed interest in developing enrollment processes and student affairs initiatives (grounded in research findings on non-cognitive skills) to improve conditions for student success.

In doing so, institutions have begun to move forward in the following ways:

  • Enrollment offices have integrated non-cognitive factors into the holistic review of applicants for admission.
  • Student affairs offices have devised interventions that impact non-cognitive factors in ways that drive higher retention and graduation rates.
  • In a few cases (which I'll discuss at the end of this article), institutions are launching "resilience initiatives" that help students develop resilience and grit in the classroom.

In this article, I'd like to walk you through some of the key examples of these efforts - and I think it's important not to look at them in isolation. We need to be considering the impact non-cognitive factors have on student success throughout the student lifecycle, from admissions to graduation.

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Also, check out the upcoming Developing a Comprehensive Retention Plan conference. Take a strategic look at your student success efforts, and develop a retention plan that connects your data, institutional mission, and available resources.