It is not surprising researchers hesitate to define what constitutes student success. The term has been applied with increasing frequency as a catchall
phrase encompassing numerous student outcomes.
The term ‘academic success is only slightly narrower with the nuanced descriptor ‘academic’ intended to limit the term’s application to the attainment of outcomes specific to educational experiences. The proliferation of studies concerned with identifying constructs that promote academic success is likely connected to the overall assessment movement and increasing pressures for institutions to evidence student learning and development. Assessing the psychological and psychosocial processes of learning and development has always been complex; however, such measurement is made increasingly difficult when the outcome of interest is unclearly defined. In fact, Terenzini (1989) argues that the primary tenet of good assessment is to clearly articulate what it is you are attempting to measure. We contend the term academic success currently functions as an amorphous construct that broadly incorporates a broad range of educational outcomes from degree attainment to moral development.
The ambiguity associated with the definition of academic success is partially attributed to its inherently perspectival nature. Varying constituents view success, and thereby academic success, differently. For example, while the chair of an English department may not consider utilizing alumni’s career promotion histories as an indicator of academic success, a director
of career services almost certainly would. In this example, the faculty member may argue academic success refers specifically to the acquisition of specific
knowledge and skills demonstrated through the completion of courses. The administrator may in turn argue academic success refers to the ability of graduates to obtain and advance in occupations within, or related to, their degree fields.