Defining Every Student’s Success: Academics
“Every student” in the academic context means every student enrolled at the College.
As a selective institution that does very deliberate recruiting and works pro-actively to retain students, we play a significant role in the composition of the student body at Ursinus. As we think about our commitment to Ursinus students and their success, it is incumbent on us to ask ourselves about the kinds of students we choose to join our community. What kinds of students will thrive at Ursinus? What types of students would benefit most from an Ursinus education? What student body is the College resourced and designed to support? And how will the College adapt to a new generation and new demographic of students? Some students come to campus better prepared academically than others do, and all students bring a diversity of life experiences and perspectives. We recognize that the tapestry of backgrounds and skills that characterize each student is important and enriches the academic life on campus. Similarly, we recognize not only that the College chooses and shapes the student body through its admissions process and by virtue of its brand and reputation, but also that each student who chooses to attend shapes Ursinus. The academic experience rests on the people – faculty, staff, and students – who comprise the classes, lectures, drop-in hours, studios, symposia, laboratories, and conferences. Each student is an active participant and contributor to an Ursinus education, giving each class its own distinct personality and character. Faculty model both passionate engagement and disciplinary expertise, demonstrating their ongoing learning as they initiate students into that process.
“Student success” in the academic context goes beyond the traditional understanding of academic performance and typical outcome measures (e.g., graduation rates, job placement, graduate school acceptances). While these elements are still important, they are inadequate in capturing the full measure of what we mean by student success in the academic experience at Ursinus. At every stage, student success is characterized by agency and growth—the ability of individuals to chart their own trajectory and to thrive along the way. Qualitative assessment associated with these concepts of agency and growth are a critical complement to the traditional quantitative measures of academic performance and student outcomes. A successful student at Ursinus may change goals and priorities during their time on campus – such changes are indicators of growth.
We view “student success” in the academic context across three stages:
Arrival on campus
A residential college is a new and often intimidating environment for newly arrived students. For many of our students, their arrival on campus will mark the first time in their academic journeys where they are exposed to a range of disciplines and areas of study and are required to make consequential decisions on their own such as a choice of major. We must encourage and support them to explore this realm and find their academic passion. Mentorship is one distinct advantage of a college of our size and can help students gain a sense of agency—reassurance that they are fully capable of success at Ursinus, and that they can chart a course for themselves. Mentorship from faculty, more experienced students, and Ursinus community leaders is extremely helpful in paving an individualized academic path for students. Student success at this stage consists of students making connections with at least one mentor and feeling empowered and supported in exploring a range of academic disciplines and finding an area of study that is meaningful and fulfilling to them.
As students complete their academic journeys on campus, we look at both traditional measures of academic performance and student outcomes as well as at whether or not seniors feel prepared for the next step in their professional lives. Has the College provided each student with the support and resources needed to find an academic home that is personally fulfilling and meaningful to them, while allowing them to have explored other alternatives? Has the College equipped students with the analytical tools and transferrable skills needed for their employer or graduate study? Do students feel that they have been in control of their academic trajectory and that their work at Ursinus is relevant for their next steps outside Collegeville? Here again, the theme of empowerment arises: successful students are those who have honed their ability to think and act independently, remain resilient in the face of an unknown and often challenging world, and understand where and how to leverage resources to find solutions to problems as yet unknown.
Beyond employment statistics and graduate school placement, success after graduation comes back to empowerment and agency. How well did the College prepare students for an uncertain and challenging world? Did the knowledge, skills, and analytical framework that Ursinus provided to students prove useful in their professional lives? Do alumni feel that they continue to have agency in their professional and personal journeys?