Which Students are Most Likely to Experience College Success?

Posted By Terri Williams on January 17, 2017 at 8:45 am
Which Students are Most Likely to Experience College Success?

Getting into college is a monumental achievement, but it’s only half the battle. College students also need to perform well academically and avoid dropping out of school. That’s easier said than done, and college success has proven difficult to predict.

That could be changing. A new report by Civitas Learning compares high school performance and scores students receive after taking the ACT or SAT to determine the better indicator of college success. The Civitas study also combs through data from 4 million college students at 62 institutions (32 universities and 30 colleges; 59 of the schools offer traditional programs and 16 offer online programs).

Aside from financial reasons, academic performance typically is believed to be the culprit when students drop out of college. However, the Civitas report revealed the following:

  • 99% of schools are losing MORE students with a GPA ABOVE 2.0 than below:
  • 44% of students who drop out have a 3.0 to 4.0 GPA
  • 34% of students who drop out have a 2.0 – 3.0 GPA

In another section of the report, Civitas analyzed the data of 440,000 students at 17 selective admissions institutions and found high-school performance (a high GPA) was significantly more indicative of a student’s future college success than SAT or ACT scores.

The high school effect and what it means

So why is high school a more reliable predictor of a student’s college success – staying in college and performing well? Robert Springall, dean of admissions at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA, tells GoodCall® he thinks that a student’s high school record speaks to more than just how much knowledge he or she has. It’s also a measure of intellectual habits. “Over the long run, students that have some knowledge of the subject and good study skills and time management will outperform many students with very good subject knowledge but less ability to read, digest, and synthesize good material,” Springall says. That may explain why some college students with a good subject matter command drop out of school.

But if high school is the best predictor of college success, why aren’t more universities and colleges moving away from the test score model?

Dr. J. Luke Wood, PhD, associate professor of community college leadership and the director of the doctoral program in community college leadership at San Diego State University, tells GoodCall® that Civitas Learning’s research is consistent with other studies, and he believes that prior performance – not a one-time test score – is one of the best predictors of future performance.

However, Wood provides three reasons why colleges still cling to test scores:

  • Many colleges are so used to employing these measures that it would be difficult to break up.
  • These scores are critical components of ranking systems, so colleges and universities will be very apprehensive about moving to GPAs because it could mar their rankings. Rankings equal money, prestige, and enrollment.
  • There is also some evidence of grade inflation in high schools. The test scores serve as a way of helping to keep people honest – that is the perception, though it may not actually be the reality.

Preparing students for college success

Realizing the importance of high school performance in a student’s future academic success, two organizations are making sure their students are prepared.

Steve Piltch, head of school at Shipley in Bryn Mawr, PA, tells GoodCall® that the school wants its graduates to be successful and happy in college and life. While the academic program at Shipley is rigorous, students are also pushed and supported so they can gain self-assurance and go beyond their comfort zone, thus enhancing their chances for college success.

“We value the development of emotional intelligence, and our Social, Emotional, And Ethical Development program is part of our curriculum from Pre-K through grade 12,” Piltch says. “This reflects our commitment to our mission – educational excellence, compassionate participation and love of learning.”

The school’s junior and senior students also engage in a college counseling process that lasts two years and allows students to focus on developing their goals, interests and strengths.

However, Piltch says the goal is not to get into the “right” college but rather to get into the best school for that individual. “Every student develops a range of schools, each suitable for that student’s needs, talents, and interests, and the college counseling program brings together the assignments, activities, and resources that can lead to a productive search with satisfying results.”

Diane Barrett, executive director of the Foundation for Impact on Literacy and Learning Inc., tells GoodCall® that her organization has developed the Lead2Feed program, which is funded by donations from Lift a Life Foundation and Yum Foundation.

The free leadership program is in 5,000 schools and clubs across the country, and has attracted more than 1 million students.  The program combines leadership and community service and includes lessons and practical applications.

Barrett believes that leadership skills are vitally important to students headed to college. “The ability to engage and lead others while being your best self will propel student leaders towards excellence and success,” Barrett says. Many employers question if college grads have the skills they need to succeed on the job. “However, Lead2Feed lessons guide students to research, plan, write, read, problem solve, be persuasive, manage time and resources, and understand others,” Barrett says.

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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