penn state mark
Class lecture
Goal 1: Enhance Student Success

Student success is paramount at Penn State and the structure, policies, and practices of the institution must facilitate student success. The University offers countless avenues through which students can progress toward their educational, personal, and career goals, and strengthening those opportunities will remain a central driver for Penn State.

The profile of our students will change considerably over the next planning cycle and beyond. Changes will be reflective of state and national trends and will include demographic shifts, decreasing numbers of high school graduates, and increasingly prevalent characteristics of the Millennial Generation. Given these shifts, the range of student characteristics and student needs will be broad. These shifts represent an important opportunity to strengthen our infrastructure and resources to enhance the quality of the educational experience to meet the needs of a dynamic and diverse student body.

Students from many backgrounds bring varied perspectives and skill sets to the institution, including first-generation students, returning adults, students with disabilities, and international students. Countless examples exist of ways in which the University recognizes the heterogeneity of its student population and the multiple dimensions of student support and student success. For instance, in its strategic plan, Intercollegiate Athletics defines its purpose to include helping develop “meaningful standards of scholarship, athletic performance, leadership, community service, ethics and sportsmanship within the institution’s educational and social environments,” and describes specific strategies toward that end. For Athletics, those strategies include (but are not limited to) informing all student-athletes of University academic expectations and the personal code of conduct; providing comprehensive academic and life-skills programming; encouraging student-athletes to participate in campus and community service; and fostering an environment of diversity and inclusion through numerous communication avenues and educational opportunities for both staff members and student-athletes.

In short, regardless of their individual abilities and aspirations, undergraduate and graduate students who come to Penn State need support to achieve their goals and be successful. They may require differing types and amounts of support during different stages of their academic careers. This is especially true for undergraduates. First-generation students, low-income students, students unsure of their choice of major, and students with disabilities may require extra services to ensure their success. We should be attuned to the needs of students who, with some additional academic assistance, can develop the social and cultural knowledge and skills necessary for success and leadership in today’s global world. Transitional times, especially those critical times such as first year, change of campus, and transfer into Penn State, require additional resources for student success.

Addressing diverse student needs and providing multiple entry points in the creation of programs and services are key factors in supporting student success. Just as scaffolding is used to enable work on a building during construction, but then removed when no longer needed, scaffolding in an academic context provides support to students when needed. As students learn, as they build on their previous learning, and as they internalize and integrate their knowledge, scaffolding can be removed. Penn State will provide this scaffolding, but will also ensure that students are actively engaged in their academic careers and take ownership of their decision making.

In addition to providing learning opportunities and support services, another critical component is integrating the curriculum and co-curriculum, and making those connections matter to students. Presenting—and enabling students to recognize—the curricular and co-curricular educational experience as a coherent whole is essential. Similarly, skills, competencies, and knowledge can be better transferred and applied across courses and built upon in progressive sequences. Overarching themes such as diversity, internationalization, citizenship, ethical leadership, contextualization, and other fundamental principles that are interwoven throughout the curriculum and co-curriculum can be better recognized through an emphasis on continuity within education, rather than by focusing on each class and activity in isolation.

In large part, student achievements depend on how well Penn State’s mission, vision, goals, policies, and practices advocate for and adhere to basic tenets of student learning and development. In this, Penn State will continue its practice of self-assessment and continuous improvement through review of programs, and services and assessment of learning outcomes. For most of the actions outlined below, faculty, staff, and student participation (via their respective departments, colleges, and campuses as well as through administrative and governance roles, such as the Administrative Council on Undergraduate Education [ACUE] and the University Faculty Senate) is essential.