Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Publication Title

Contested Issues in Troubled Times: Student Affairs Dialogues About Equity, Civility, and Safety




[First paragraph]

The question structuring this chapter begins with the presumption that we should define and measure student success. The perspective missing from this question is: What possibilities exist for versions of student success in excess of its definition and measurement? Measurements ask us to standardize definitions of success—say, four-year graduation—and work to produce all students in this image. As a former academic adviser, I can read a university catalog and tell you the quickest pathways to graduation a university has to offer. This makes me an asset to institutions that place a value on student success as measured by graduation rates, but does shuttling students to majors with comparatively lax degree requirements produce an expansive version of student success? I am the last person to argue that metrics of student success such as college graduation lack all meaning. However, when measurements of achievements like college graduation become the focus of student affairs practice, they warp our institutions and our students in their image.1 I use graduation here as it is the most frequently cited definition of student success today, but this logic follows no matter what definition you substitute in its place. In what follows, I argue that definitions and measurements of student success construct student realities in ways that are counterproductive to liberal education, and liberal education is the ineffable outcome of higher education that produces students capable of changing the structures of our profoundly problematic world.


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Original Publication Citation

Smithers, L. E. (2019). How should institutions of higher education define and measure student success?: Student success as liberal education escapes definition and measurement In P. M. Magolda, M. B. Baxter-Magolda, & R. Carducci (Eds.), Contested Issues in Troubled Times: Student Affairs Dialogues About Equity, Civility, and Safety (pp. 127-137). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.