@ Issue Paper No. 10 Defining, Measuring and Achieving “Student Success” in Ontario Colleges and Universities

Executive Summary:

Students Service Programs Not Reaching Those Who Need Them Most

While colleges and universities across Ontario offer a wide range of academic, personal and financial support programs to help students successfully realize their postsecondary education (PSE) goals, most students remain unaware of the services available to them. 

A new @Issue paper Defining, Measuring and Achieving “Student Success” in Ontario Colleges and Universities by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) shows that the students most in need of student assistance programs – such as first-year transition programs, academic advising and career and personal counselling – are not using them.

Project Description

In recent years, postsecondary institutions and the provincial government have increased their focus on programs relating to student retention, completion and success. This @Issue paper summarizes institutional and student issues affecting success, examines the use and impact of student support programs and outlines the challenges and best practices for measuring and evaluating the outcomes of these programs. The paper draws primarily from HEQCO research, particularly a recent series of studies focused on 18 individual student service programs at universities and colleges throughout the province.


Despite efforts by institutions and staff to make students aware of the programs and services offered, in many cases very few students know about them. In several instances, less than 10 per cent of the targeted student population were aware of these programs. The report recommends colleges and universities make support services as easily accessible as possible by placing them in one central location and  providing students with concise, simple information as early as possible.

However, even when students were made sufficiently aware, research shows that those most likely to seek additional academic assistance already often had reasonable grade averages and were generally not those most at risk of failing. The paper recommends institutions should consider making certain support programs compulsory or have faculty help promote their benefits to students.

While these types of programs certainly have value, say the authors, it is best not to expect to find “silver bullets” that individually have a significant measurable effect on student success. Many of these types of programs and interventions tend to require only occasional or short term commitments from students, so the impact of any individual intervention on academic performance or retention is likely to be minimal. However, multiple programs combined may result in a valuable impact. When surveyed, participants generally found the programs to be valuable and there is certainly no shortage of committed faculty and student service professionals at Ontario colleges and universities trying to enhance student learning and success; however effectively measuring the impact of these interventions remains a challenge.

This @Issue paper was written by Richard Dominic Wiggers, HEQCO Research Director, and Christine Arnold, HEQCO Research Analyst.​