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Business Intel

January 2018


Rely on Grit to Get Ahead

Measurements of student success go beyond grade point averages and test scores.

Higher education institutions are increasingly looking beyond traditional academic metrics as measurements of student success. Eric Oifer, professor at Santa Monica College (SMC), Calif., is the faculty leader of a group that spearheaded such an approach via the GRIT Initiative—referring to the grit it takes for students to overcome challenges to degree completion.

Oifer worked with departments across the college, which enrolls more than 30,000 students, to develop practices and activities that put noncognitive strategies at the center of efforts to enhance student success. Those techniques include encouraging students to seek help, enhancing their ability to “think” about their own thinking, and reinforcing their sense of place and agency. The initiative recognizes and develops students’ strengths and competencies rather than their deficits.

The Beginning

Launched in fall 2012, the GRIT Initiative is based on the premise that SMC students are resilient and come to the college with a desire to learn and succeed. The program includes four basic pillars: growth, resilience, integrity, and tenacity, all of which relate to noncognitive skills or behaviors that are applicable both in and outside the classroom.

In 2015, initiative leaders developed a slogan: “Grow your mind. Grow your life.” To emphasize the theme of the growth mindset, posters highlighting the tangible behaviors and attitudes of being a successful student were created and displayed around SMC campuses. During the 2015–16 academic year, GRIT focused on bringing to campus speakers whose stories illustrated the theme of a growing, curious mind. Professionals from various fields shared how they overcame hardships to achieve success. The hope was that students would see how they could apply these messages to their own lives.

“Initially, a group of us were tasked with determining how the GRIT concept would be applied at SMC,” Oifer says. “The first year was a lot of trial and error. We worked together to answer a number of questions: What should we call this? What are we going to do? How will we measure success in this effort? How will we convey this concept to the larger campus community?”

The answers to some questions were easier than others, but overall Oifer is pleased with how GRIT has been integrated into the college’s approach to evaluating student success—and incorporated into courses and activities.

The Nitty Gritty

As Oifer reflects on the opportunities and obstacles that have presented themselves during this five-year effort to emphasize different skills and their correlation to student success, he offers these suggestions for institutions considering similar initiatives.

In fall 2012, SMC partnered with ETS to conduct a pilot study, assessing the relationship between students’ noncognitive skills and their academic outcomes, including grade point average and course credit-completion rate. According to Oifer, the study found that, when controlling for the impact of gender, race/ethnicity, parental education, and academic ability, noncognitive skills positively impacted GPA and course credit success.

Since fall 2014, more than 6,200 students have used the tool, which continues to be administered as part of the college’s Counseling 20 (student success seminar) curriculum. The incorporation of SuccessNavigator into this curriculum fulfills one of Oifer’s main goals for the GRIT initiative. “One of the ways that we figured out that this would work was by embedding these ideas into existing programs that will continue,” he says. “The committee’s work officially ended in December 2017, but the college’s assessment of applied learning will continue.”

Still, Oifer is pleased with the progress made during the past five years. “We’ve been able to get a good number of things off the ground that will have broad impact and be sustained,” he says. “Through the development of the institutional learning outcome and the implementation of SuccessNavigator, for example, GRIT was institutionalized. Culturally, people talk about it as something that they do as part of their teaching. The initiative pushed the idea and helped it become part of their language.”

APRYL MOTLEY, Columbia, Md., covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.

Purdue Launches Three-Year Degree

Last semester, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., began offering a comprehensive array of three-year degree plans in all 10 academic schools in the Liberal Arts College. For 85 percent of incoming students seeking a Bachelor of Arts degree, the three-year degree was an option. With additional such plans in development, Purdue is providing a way for students to earn their degrees in a more timely manner.

The estimated cost savings compared to the traditional four-year path are (1) $9,021 for state residents; (2) $18,422, for nonresidents; and (3) $19,422 for international students. “As we look at undergraduate liberal arts education,” says David A. Reingold, dean, “this is a compelling option. It positions students to meld the benefits of the in-demand skills a liberal arts program provides—great communication, creative thinking, and analytical problem solving—with an exceptional value proposition.”

Students are encouraged to declare the choice of the three-year option by the end of their first year at Purdue. “This is not for the faint of heart,” Reingold says. “Degree in 3 students will be in school year-round and will carry a full load of classes. It will be challenging. To assist these students, we will offer an exclusive learning community and targeted academic advising support … it will reflect a particular focus and work ethic that will set these students apart.”


“Community college students are 20 percent more likely to experience sexual assault and 50 percent more likely to experience relationship violence before arriving at their school than are students at four-year residential institutions.”
Prioritizing Prevention at Community Colleges, a report released by Everfi Inc., during a think tank meeting for representatives of community colleges

Fast Fact

Quick Clicks

Research Enriches Economy

An annual survey of 195 U.S. universities, hospitals, and other research institutions finds that academic research is fueling impressive gains in local, state, and national economies. The year 2016 saw the formation of a record 1,024 startup companies, according to the findings in the Association University Technology Managers’ 2016 annual licensing activity survey.

Among other key findings:

Best in Social Mobility

“Universities act as ladders for social mobility, which makes for a more dynamic and fairer society,” notes the recent Brookings Institution report, Ladders, Labs, or Laggards? Which Public Universities Contribute Most?  While the best colleges and universities generally excel in either improving lives or expanding knowledge, a select few deliver outstanding results in both. The study ranks Cleveland State University (CSU) among this elite group.

CSU is the only Ohio university ranked in the report’s “Best of the Best” category, which included 20 percent of the 342 universities studied. Brookings researchers developed the ranking by assessing (1) the number of low-income students attending the universities in the study, and (2) the research expenditures of these institutions, as determined by the National Science Foundation.

By The Numbers

International Education, 2017

Source: Institute of International Education, Open Doors, 2017, executive summary. Retrieved from on Nov. 13, 2017.