Mindset and student success

Community college students agree that having a positive “mindset” does help in succeeding in college, but there are two areas where their budding confidence freezes: testing and math.

A new report by the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas examines the relationship between students’ “productive academic mindset” — basically, how confident they are in being able to succeed — and their performance in college. The closer students are to a productive mindset, the more likely they are to be highly engaged and therefore more successful, the report said.

Many students who enroll in community college already lack that confidence, said Evelyn Waiwaiole, executive director of the center. But helping them attain it can produce positive results, she said.

“Educating students about the power of mindset can help them change the way they feel about past failures, which can lead to more engagement, and, in turn, more successful students,” she said in a statement.

Nearly 70 percent of surveyed students felt they could significantly change their intelligence, and 82 percent said they felt they could keep up with their coursework. But it’s in testing and math where they tend to stumble. Forty-four percent of students disagreed or responded neutrally as to whether they could do well on tests, and 44 percent said they same about math.

Ways to grow the mindset

So how can colleges instill a positive mindset? Connecting students’ coursework to their long-term goals is one way, such as through career pathways, Waiwaiole said. Making students feel like they are part of the college community is also important. How instructors discuss bad test results with students can be influential. Advising is also a factor.

The report provides promising practices to help students attain more productive mindsets. Chippewa Valley Technical College in Wisconsin includes student success principles — including growth mindset — in many of its programs. About 300 students were part of the Start Strong pilot in fall 2017. More than half reported positive changes that they attribute to the program, according to the report.

At Cleveland State Community College in Tennessee, each faculty member identified opportunities in his or her teaching to help students’ mindsets grow. They made changes such as altering their vocabulary when they discuss success and failure with students, the center’s report said. Faculty also help students understand failure differently so they can see it as a pathway to improvement rather than a dead end.

In addition, the college in fall 2017 implemented a growth mindset module into its first-year seminar, a course that is required for all degree-seeking students, the report said.

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CCDaily is published by the American Association of Community Colleges.