This research endeavor began as a response to the consistent enrollment challenges facing higher education—as well as a desire to understand recent historical trends in the dispositions and attitudes of college students, and to share this understanding in hopes it informs the efforts institutions make to retain and support students in their persistence toward degree completion.
We believe that institutional approaches to student success and retention should be guided by many streams of student-centered data, including measures of noncognitive factors.
Within this context, this study sought to explore links between the topics of enrollment and student success and reviewed trend data for six noncognitive factors, each of which was assessed utilizing an instrument called the Campus Labs Student Strengths Inventory (SSI). The six noncognitive factors assessed by the SSI are:
Commonly administered during new student orientation programs or throughout first-year experience courses, the SSI affirms students’ talents and strengths early in their college career and identifies starting points for future growth. To situate this analysis within a similar window of time as the phenomena of declining enrollments, this study reviewed SSI results collected between 2013-2019 to examine these research questions:
What trends, or lack thereof, emerge from the aggregate SSI dataset for each noncognitive factor?
When each factor is viewed in aggregate, what is the distribution of students who scored in low/moderate/high ranges?
What trends, or lack thereof, are seen in the SSI dataset for each noncognitive factor when disaggregated by institution type (four-year private and four-year public)?
When the SSI dataset is disaggregated by institution type (four-year private and four-year public), what is the distribution of students who scored in low/moderate/high ranges for each factor?
What trends, or lack thereof, are seen in the SSI dataset for each noncognitive factor when disaggregated by institution size?
When the SSI dataset is disaggregated by institution size, what is the distribution of students who scored in low/moderate/high ranges for each factor?
To answer these research questions, the Campus Labs Data Science team gathered the data from 180,306 SSI respondents collected at 74 colleges and universities across the United States. All institutions included in this analysis use the Campus Labs platform for student success management. In analyzing this large collection of responses in aggregate, three points initially stand out:
Overall, academic engagement has increased over time.
Respondents scored the lowest in social comfort when compared to the other noncognitive attributes being measured.
Respondents show moderate levels of educational commitment, despite high scores in academic engagement and academic self-efficacy.
For this research, we acknowledge that fluctuations in the institutions administering the SSI each year introduces variation into the dataset of respondents completing the SSI—however, when the responses are disaggregated by institution type and size, additional items of interest arise:
Private four-year institutions have seen a decline in levels of campus engagement.
Public four-year institutions have seen a decline in levels of resiliency.
Small campuses overall face a surprising challenge: campus engagement.
Mid-sized campuses share the same three lowest responses in noncognitive factors: social comfort, resiliency and educational commitment.
Large campuses (full-time enrollments of more than 8,000) saw a rise in respondents with low resiliency.
These trends are not just items of niche interest—utilizing noncognitive data as part of broader institutional efforts is a pragmatic approach to inform campus initiatives and to keep students enrolled through the entirety of their degree-seeking experience.
Insights and Implications
In 2019, respondents scored the highest in academic engagement when compared to the other noncognitive attributes being measured. From 2013-2019, academic engagement displays what appears to be an ascending linear trend with student scores going from a low of around the 63rd percentile in 2013 to a high of the 70th in 2019. Over time, this data indicates students enrolled in colleges and universities have been increasingly likely to believe in the value of academics.
Aggregate Trends in the SSI Dataset
The strongest correlation exists between academic self-efficacy and educational commitment (.55). While the change-over-time for academic self-efficacy and educational commitment is minimal, alignment can be inferred between respondents’ commitment to completing a degree, confidence in their ability to make good on that commitment, and their belief in the value of their degree.
Time is somewhat less kind to campus engagement, social comfort and resiliency. Between 2013-2019, both campus engagement and social comfort trend downward, while resiliency plateaus—and a moderate correlation (.41) exists between campus engagement and social comfort.
Respondents scored the lowest in social comfort when compared to the other noncognitive attributes being measured, with resiliency not far behind.
Given that students tend to score highest in academic areas and lowest in social and emotional skills that lend themselves well to supporting students in an academic journey, institutions may consider looking more closely at what types of programming and interventions are intended to help students grow in these interpersonal areas.
This may include embedding the growth mindset into the first-year seminar curriculum, creating a peer mentorship program and/or offering one-on-one strengths-based advising. Institutions may consider doing proactive outreach to students with low and moderate levels of educational commitment, using targeted communications and one-on-one advising methods.
Noncognitive data can provide campuses with incredibly rich information about their students—and to showcase this fact, this paper also incorporates case studies where institutions utilized SSI findings to implement meaningful interventions, such as targeted outreach and communication plans, coaching and mentoring, and curriculum design.
Download the Full Whitepaper
Enter your information in the form on the right to download the full whitepaper for deeper analysis of each research question—including detailed campus case studies showcasing the use of noncognitive data in student success efforts, as well as additional graphs and figures of data.