Student Success is often used as short-hand for the larger retention-persistence-graduation (RPG) conversation. Broadly, student success contains aspects of one or more variables related to academic achievement, engagement in educationally purposeful activities, satisfaction, acquisition of desired knowledge, skills and competencies, persistence, attainment of educational objectives, and post-college performance (Kuh, Kinzie, Buckley, Bridges, & Hayek, 2007). In order to positively impact retention and student success, it is important for an institution to understand the phenomenon of attrition on their campus such that informed efforts can be made to decrease the rate of its occurrence (Braxton & McClendon, 2001; Butcher, 1997; Martinez, Sher, Krull & Wood, 2009; Tinto, 1993).
One explanation for high attrition rates is that students may experience “marginality,” the sense that they do not fit in or belong (Pillow, Malone, & Hale, 2014), or the feeling of being disconnected from the institution (Schlossberg, 1981; Taub, 2020). Marginality can lead to negative outcomes such as self-consciousness, irritability and depression (Dixon & Kurpius, 2008) and happens differently for different co-populations (Cabrera, Burkum, LaNasa, & Bibo, 2012; Johnson, Soldner, Leonard, Alvarez, Rowan-Kenyon, & Longerbeam, 2007; Hurtado & Carter, 1997; Strayhorn, 2012; Zubrunn, McKim, Buhs, & Hawley, 2014). The opposite feeling is “mattering” (Rosenberg & McCullough, 1981), the feeling that students count, that they make a difference. Mattering is affected by:
- attention (being noticed, not invisible)
- importance (that someone is concerned, cares about you)
- ego extension (that someone will share in your pride of accomplishment and sympathize with your failures)
- dependence (the sense of being needed)
- appreciation (the feeling that one’s efforts are appreciated)
“Helping students feel that they matter to the institution is a first step toward engaging students and involving them in the college community” (Zavatkay, 2015). One element that helps to make students feel like they matter is social support. Social support is especially important when any event or nonevent creates a transition that results in changed relationships and routines (Anderson, Grossman, & Schlossberg, 2012). Social support comes in various types (emotional, informational, appraisal, etc.) and from various sources such as close friends, family members, professors, staff, and community members. Interestingly, students do not distinguish between student services and academics when reporting whether or not they feel social support—they perceive it as being all one package (Hart, 2018). College-friend social support is the most powerful predictor of mattering, and mattering to the college is the most powerful predictor of academic stress levels (Rayle & Chung, 2007). Specifically, students feel like they matter when staff/faculty gave attention, expressed care and concern, and are responsive (Hart, 2018).
Retention, persistence and completion can be enhanced or impeded during the first six weeks of the new college student’s experience. During this critical time, students need support from peers, faculty and staff. Racism and discrimination can lead to a lower sense of belonging for marginalized groups (Pope, Miklitsch and Weigand, 2005; Sue, 2010; Harwood, Huntt, Mendenhall & Lewis, 2012). Thus, there is a need to find out and monitor how connected students feel to their institution and how supported they feel socially before dropout occurs. It is also imperative to disaggregate those data by co-populations to understand the varied student experiences.
The Student Social Support/Connectedness Inventory (SSCI)was developed to address those needs. The SSCI assesses student perceptions of esteem/emotional support, social companionship, academic support, connectedness to the institution, connectedness to instructors, connectedness to campus organizations/resources, and diversity, equity and inclusion. Ultimately, the goal is to assess whether students feel like they really matter to the institution.
The SSCI was developed through a multi-step process, beginning with a thorough literature review and an examination of existing scales. From those sources, common themes were derived and an initial set of 92 items was developed. Following review by knowledgeable experts, items were deleted and modified. Then 61 remaining items were sent to selected individual with knowledge and experience in higher education. They were asked to rate each item on a scale of 1 “Not important at all” to 5 “Absolutely essential.” An open-ended question was also included for comments and suggestions. Following data collection, descriptive statistics and z-scores were computed to determine the relative importance of each item. This process resulted in a final instrument of 43 items.
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