John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

My Philosophy of Student Success

When I was on the graduate faculty of the University of South Carolina I taught (often with Betsy Barefoot) a seminar once a year for students in the masters and doctoral program in higher education administration. And we would ask them to write as part of their final examination, a philosophy statement for their philosophy of higher education. For most all of them, they had never been asked to think or write anything explicitly of this nature. But, of course, they did have philosophies, just as you do. And these are the basis of our daily actions on behalf of student success.
Anyway, compare yours with mine:


I want to both affirm and be transparent about some of my beliefs and what I hope are common beliefs:

I believe in the dignity and worth of all students, each student

I believe that what matters most is what we do for ALL students, not just some students


I believe that I can teach students to be successful


I believe that there is a demonstrable body of knowledge about teaching student success


I believe that what a student is today, in terms of prior achievement, predicted collegiate ability and high school rank in class, is not necessarily a valid predictor of what the student can become


I believe that these indicators do not measure students’ basic intelligence or motivation, nor our ability to successfully intervene


I believe that all students are “developmental”


I believe that all students are potentially at risk


I believe that we have to focus on the big picture, what is best for our institutions and all students, not necessarily our own students or programs


I believe that the greatest influence on students during their time in college is the influence of other students, and hence the need to intentionally put our very best students in positions of influence on their peers


I believe that it is the obligation and opportunity for government (and our public institutions) to intervene and to engineer opportunities for students – this is, I admit, a brand of old fashioned liberalism.


I believe in the value of holistic education that addresses the intellectual, personal, social, physical, spiritual, and safety needs of all students


I believe that educationally purposeful and meaningful learning experiences can and should take place anywhere that students, faculty and staff come together.


I believe that we must be and are advocates for what I coined in 1995 as “students in transition”: first-time college students; new students to your campus be the first time in college or transfer; sophomores who are not over the first-year hump and instead are in “slump,” and senior students preparing to leave higher education, at least for the time being.


I believe in the value of faculty, academic administrator, and student affairs partnerships, which is certainly illustrated by the demographic composition of this conference.


In conclusion, I am not suggesting that my philosophy should be yours, just that you should have one, and share it with your students especially. Just imagine what impact this might have if you published it in all your syllabi?!



John N. Gardner

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