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The Higher Learning Commission, which is the largest regional accrediting agency, is seeking to change the conversation around defining student success for today's learners. With the release of a position paper, the first of three HLC plans to release on the issue in coming months, the accreditor argued that "current discussions and measures of student success are based on a construct that does not represent students now enrolled in U.S. postsecondary education institutions." The paper was written by a group of experts convened by the accreditor. The Lumina Foundation contributed funding for the project.

In particular, HLC said the focus on completion too often ignores individual students' intent or educational goals. And currently used completion metrics and approaches tend to privilege certain types of learners, by failing to directly address barriers nontraditional students in particular tend to face, or their priorities. This approach also undervalues certain types of institutions and programs. For example, HLC said community and technical colleges typically do not fare as well as four-year institutions on completion metrics because most of their students are working adults and not first-time, full-time ones.

A more flexible student success framework, with students at its center, would include measures of "attainment of learning outcomes, personal satisfaction and goal/intent attainment, job placement and career advancement, civic and life skills, social and economic well-being, and commitment to lifelong learning," the paper said.