Innovative Higher Education

, Volume 44, Issue 6, pp 481–496 | Cite as

Reimagining Student Success: Equity-Oriented Responses to Traditional Notions of Success

  • Ethan Chang
  • Rebecca A. LondonEmail author
  • Samara S. Foster


This study examined how 20 faculty and staff members used a one-time funding initiative to (re)conceptualize and design student success interventions. We found that they selectively adopted traditional notions of student success but also elevated themes of social justice, civic engagement, and overall student well-being as valuable dimensions of student success. This more expansive conception of student success informed how project leads designed interventions, including peer-tutoring supports and programs to support a sense of belonging. We argue that participatory approaches to student success framing and programming might advance more relevant and responsive conceptions of student success and facilitate organizational processes for achieving these more expansive aims.


Student success Historically underrepresented students Higher education Equity 



  1. Attewell, P., & Monaghan, D. (2016). How many credits should an undergraduate take? Research in Higher Education, 57, 682–713.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ball, S. J. (1995). What is policy? Texts, trajectories and toolboxes. In S. J. Ball (Ed.), Education policy and social class: The selected works of Stephen J. Ball (pp. 43–53). New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  3. Bangera, G., & Brownell, S. E. (2014). Course-based undergraduate research experiences can make scientific research more inclusive. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 13, 602–606.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baum, S., Ma, J., & Payea, K. (2010). Education pays, 2010: The benefits of higher education for individuals and society. New York, NY: The College Board.Google Scholar
  5. Binder, A. (2007). For love and money: Organizations’ creative responses to multiple environmental logics. Theory and Society, 36, 547–571.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brankovic, J. (2018). The status games they play: Unpacking the dynamics of organisational status competition in higher education. Higher Education, 75, 695–709.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brown, K. D. (2016). After the “at-risk” label: Reorienting educational policy and practice. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  8. Carnevale, A. P., & Strohl, J. (2010). How increasing college access is increasing inequality, and what to do about it. In R. D. Kahlenberg (Ed.), Rewarding strivers: Helping low-income students succeed in college (pp. 71–183). New York, NY: The Century Foundation Press.Google Scholar
  9. Castillo, Y., & Estudillo, A. (2015). Undergraduate research: An essential piece for underrepresented students’ college success. Perspectives on Undergraduate Research and Mentoring, 4, 1),1–1)15.Google Scholar
  10. Chen, J. C. (2014). Teaching nontraditional adult students: Adult learning theories in practice. Teaching in Higher Education, 19, 406–418.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chun, E., & Evans, A. (2016). Rethinking cultural competence in higher education: An ecological framework for student development. ASHE higher education report, 42(4). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
  12. Creswell, J. W. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.Google Scholar
  13. Dorius, S., Tandberg, D., & Cram, B. (2017). Accounting for institutional variation in expected returns to higher education. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 25(110), 1–35. Retrieved from. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Eagan, K., Stolzenberg, E. B., Bates, A. K., Aragon, M. C., Suchard, M. R., & Rios-Anuilar, C. (2016). The American freshman: National norms fall 2015. Los Angeles, CA: Cooperative Institutional Research Program.Google Scholar
  15. Engle, J., & Tinto, V. (2008). Moving beyond access: College success for low-income first- generation students. Washington, DC: Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education.Google Scholar
  16. Ewell, P. T. (2009). Assessment, accountability, and improvement: Revisiting the tension (NILOA Occasional Paper No.1). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment. Retrieved from
  17. Garcia, G. A., & Okhidoi, O. (2015). Culturally relevant practices that “serve” students at a Hispanic serving institution. Innovative Higher Education, 40, 345–357.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Huisman, J., & Mampaey, J. (2018). Use your imagination: What UK universities want you to think of them. Oxford Review of Education, 44, 425–440.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hurtado, S., & Carter, D. F. (1997). Effects of college transition and perceptions of the campus racial climate on Latino college students' sense of belonging. Sociology of Education, 70, 324–345.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hurtado, S., Alvarez, C. L., Guillermo-Wann, C., Cuellar, M., & Arellano, L. (2012). A model for diverse learning environments: The scholarship on creating and assessing conditions for student success. In J. C. Smart & M. B. Paulsen (Eds.), Higher education: Handbook of theory and research (pp. 41–122). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.Google Scholar
  21. Ishikawa, M. (2012). University rankings, global models, and emerging hegemony: Critical analysis from Japan. In B. Pusser, K. Kempner, S. Marginson, & I. Ordorika (Eds.), Universities and the public sphere (pp. 95–114). New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  22. Jaschik, S. (2007, January 17). The new assessment market. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from
  23. Kinzie, J. (2012). A new view of student success. In L. Schreiner, M. C. Louis, & D. D. Nelson (Eds.), Thriving in transitions: A research-based approach to college student success (pp. xi– xxvii). Columbia, SC: National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition.Google Scholar
  24. Kuh, G. D., Kinzie, J., Buckley, J. A., Bridges, B. K., & Hayek, J. C. (2011). Piecing together the student success puzzle: Research, propositions, and recommendations. ASHE higher education report, 116. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
  25. Leach, L., & Zepke, N. (2010). Beyond hard outcomes: “Soft” outcomes and engagement as student success. Teaching in Higher Education, 15, 661–673.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lipson, S. K., Kern, A., Eisenberg, D., & Breland-Noble, A. M. (2018). Mental health disparities among college students of color. Journal of Adolescent Health, 63, 348–356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. McCormack, T., Schnee, E., & Vanora, J. (2014). Researching up: Triangulating qualitative research to influence the public debate of “on-time” college graduation. Teachers College Record, 116, 1–35.Google Scholar
  28. McKeown-Moak, M. P. (2013). The “new” performance funding in higher education. Educational Considerations, 40(2), 3–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Mertens, D. M. (2015). Research and evaluation in education and psychology: Integrating diversity with quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods (4 eBook ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.Google Scholar
  30. Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.Google Scholar
  31. Morphew, C. C. (2009). Conceptualizing change in the institutional diversity of US colleges and universities. The Journal of Higher Education, 80, 243–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Museus, S. D., Yi, V., & Saelua, N. (2017). The impact of culturally engaging campus environments on sense of belonging. The Review of Higher Education, 40, 187–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Patton, M. Q. (1990). Qualitative evaluation and research methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.Google Scholar
  34. Regents of the University of California (n.d.). Accountability Report 2018. Retrieved from
  35. Rendón, L. I. (2006). Reconceptualizing success for underserved students in higher education. Retrieved from
  36. Richardson, L. (1994). Writing. A method of inquiry. In N. Denzin N & Y. Lincoln (Eds.). The handbook of qualitative research (pp. 516–529). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.Google Scholar
  37. Schreiner, L. (2010). The “thriving quotient”: A new vision for student success. About Campus, 15(2), 2–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Schuh, J. H., & Gansemer-Topf, A. M. (2010). The role of student affairs in student learning assessment (NILOA Occasional Paper No.7). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment.Google Scholar
  39. Schwandt, T. (2007). The SAGE dictionary of qualitative inquiry (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Shapiro, D., Dundar, A., Wakhungu, P.K., Yuan, X., Nathan, A, & Hwang, Y. (2016, September). Time to degree: A national view of the time enrolled and elapsed for associate and bachelor’s degree earners (Signature Report No. 11). Herndon, VA: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.Google Scholar
  41. U.S. Department of Education (2015). Fact sheet: Focusing higher education on student success. Retrieved from
  42. University of California Information Center (2018). Undergraduate admissions summary. Retrieved from
  43. University of California, Santa Cruz (2017). Promoting student success and educational equity: Working to improve yield of LCFF+ high school students and retention of current UC Santa Cruz undergraduate students. Santa Cruz, CA: Author.Google Scholar
  44. University of California, Santa Cruz Division of Student Success (2019). What guides our work? Retrieved from
  45. Varenne, H., & McDermott, R. (1999). Successful failure: The school America builds. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  46. Wood, L. N., & Breyer, Y. A. (2017). Success in higher education: Transitions to, within and from university. Singapore: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Yudkevich, M., Altbach, P. G., & Rumbley, L. E. (2015). Global university rankings: The “Olympic games” of higher education? Prospects, 45, 411–419.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Zucker, L. G. (1987). Institutional theories of organization. Annual Review of Sociology, 13, 443–464.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ethan Chang
    • 1
  • Rebecca A. London
    • 2
    Email author
  • Samara S. Foster
    • 3
  1. 1.University of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA
  2. 2.Department of Sociology, 202 Rachel Carson CollegeUniversity of CaliforniaSanta CruzUSA
  3. 3.Division of Student SuccessUniversity of CaliforniaSanta CruzUSA

Personalised recommendations