What is the Definition of Student Success in Higher Ed?
definition of student success in higher ed

With the world changing quickly, our definition of student success in higher ed is changing right along with it. Some schools double-down on promoting and articulating their long-standing version of student success. Then, others are pivoting to embrace a new definition of success. One thing is clear – one definition does not fit all. 

No matter what delivery model is chosen by institutions in the coming year (fully in-person, hybrid, or fully-online) student success is still paramount. Even while higher ed navigates the need for flexibility, student success remains non-negotiable. Students and administrators don’t always agree on what this looks like, however, which contributes to the challenge of arriving at a singular definition.

Let’s look at some of the factors up for consideration when creating a definition of student success in higher ed.   


Skill development is a primary goal of higher ed. Whether a university is big, small, private, or public, they are preparing students for competence in their chosen field. Each institution may define what competence means (or use a different word than competence), but they universally strive toward it. High levels of student achievement contributes to greater institutional stability and supportive alumni.

Holistic Development

The college years are a critical time for identity development. Students are striking out on their own for the first time and discovering who they are apart from their family and childhood friends. While an institution may help guide this process through course offerings and support services, students are doing much of this work on their own by building new friendships, navigating their independence, and making choices about their future. 

Post-Graduate Employment

Without a record of employability for students post-graduation, institutions can’t remain viable. One of the shifts emerging in higher ed right now are new institutions that allow students to receive a free education in return for a percentage of their income when they have their first job. These thought-leaders are creating a new definition of student success in higher ed.

Student Advancement

Student advancement is about preparation for post-graduate education. The definition of student success in higher ed takes into consideration those who need to pursue additional education in fields of work requiring additional training. Student acceptance rates into medical school, law school, or other graduate work is a valid measure of undergraduate student success.


The reality facing many higher ed institutions today is whether or not their students can afford to stay until degree completion in the current economic state. Additionally, the early months of a student’s experience at a university lay the foundation for whether or not they stay. When institutions invest in their student’s well-being early in their college experience, retention improves. BetterYou, for example, has proven to be a successful well-being solution that benefits both institutional retention and student overall well-being.  

While this list is not all-inclusive, it does lay some of the groundwork for conversations around this topic. Liberal arts schools, trade schools, and state institutions are equally engaged in this conversation and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Our current and future higher ed’s student success is at stake.

The BetterYou app uses behavior science to improve digital health and make it stick.

Want to learn how?