In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Student Success in College

  • Introduction
  • Post-College Success
  • Measuring Student Outcomes
  • Online Resources
  • Abstracting Services

Psychology Student Success in College
John H. Schuh
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0234


There are at least two dimensions of student success that have been explored widely in numerous studies. One dimension is that student success in college is defined as students’ achieving their goals for matriculation. Completing academic degree programs such as bachelor’s degrees, graduate degrees, or professional degrees (e.g., M.D., J.D., and so on) satisfactorily is a common characterization of student success. But not all students define success as completing a degree. Some students, for example, attend college with the goal of determining whether or not a baccalaureate degree program will help them achieve their educational or career goals. Accordingly, they enroll in college-level courses to determine if their educational goals can be met by completing a degree. Some students are enrolled in multiple institutions simultaneously, or transfer from one institution to another, commonly known as swirling, to achieve their goals for their college experience. Another dimension of student success that has been widely studied has to do with what colleges and universities can do to provide an environment and develop programs and support so that students can achieve their goals for their college experience. This can be a combination of crafting an institutional environment that values and supports student success through a wide variety of messages, programs, and policies that taken in the aggregate communicate that it highly values student success and will do everything possible to help students succeed. The terms “persistence” and “retention” often are used synonymously, but for the purpose of this discussion, persistence refers to what students can do to achieve success, while retention is what institutions can do to help students achieve their educational goals. Programs, experiences, strategies, and other initiatives included in this discussion do not necessarily stand alone. That is, often they are complementary and have an effect on each other. There is considerable overlap in the topics considered in this article and in the Oxford Bibliographies in Education article “Student Engagement in Tertiary Education” because student engagement often is considered as a means by which success in college is achieved. In identifying and describing sources that address student success in college, the approach taken in this article is to consider the topic from the perspective of what institutions can do to facilitate student success and what students can do to achieve their educational goals. Many of the studies cited in this bibliography may be replicated in the future, perhaps with different methodological designs and most certainly with other groups of students.

Books Related to Student Success

Historical and foundational books are identified, since they provide a basis for additional inquiry into the subject of student success. Other books explain how institutions of higher education function through a discussion of organizational theory, leadership theory, or both. Also identified are books that discuss student development theory and that describe how students learn and develop in higher education. A number of books include detailed descriptions and analyses of factors and conditions that support and encourage students as they strive to achieve their educational goals. Several books that are focused on facilitating the success of historically underserved populations of students are also identified.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.