Mindsets and Success in Community Colleges

Mindsets and Success in Community Colleges

Holly Vincent
Tuesday, April 16, 2019 12:00 AM

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - A Mind at Work: Maximizing the Relationship Between Mindset and Student Success, a report released by the Center for Community College Student Engagement (the Center), indicates that students who have more productive academic mindsets are more engaged and have higher GPAs.

In the fall of 2018, the Center for Community College Student Engagement visited Cleveland State Community College. The purpose of the visit was to discuss growth mindset initiatives on campus. During this time, they held four focus groups, one specifically for faculty, one for honors students and two other student-related groups. The groups discussed both teaching and learning strategies and how having a growth mindset improves success.

Since the CCCSE visit, the Cleveland State faculty has identified opportunities to help students’ mindsets grow. Some of the changes include altering their vocabulary when discussing success and failure and helping students understand failure is ultimately a pathway to improvement rather than a dead end.

“We are very proud of the way our faculty intentionally seek to help students feel like they belong at college and that they are capable of success,” stated Dr. Denise King, Vice President for Academic Affairs. “Their consideration of each student as a uniquely gifted individual makes a clear and positive difference in student performance.”

Academic mindset encompasses students’ beliefs about the ways learning and intelligence work.

According to Dr. David Knopp, Director of Institutional Research and Effectiveness at Cleveland State Community College, approximately 70 percent of CSCC students agreed that they could change their intelligence a lot, and 80 percent agreed that they were confident they could keep up with their coursework. While the majority of students are confident in some areas of academic mindset, student responses indicating a nonproductive mindset tended to cluster in two areas: testing and math.

  • Forty-two percent of students disagreed or responded neutrally as to whether they could do well on tests, even when they were difficult.
  • Forty percent of students disagreed or responded neutrally as to whether they could change their intelligence a lot in math.


Dr. Victoria Bryan, CSCC Honors Program Director, said, “The biggest part of my job is guiding students through the Honors program, which is a very structured and rigorous program. Generally, this program attracts students who like a challenge, but it also attracts students who have tended to excel at their academic pursuits. Our program is designed to push them beyond their comfort zone, and this often means failing on a first attempt. The best thing this program offers is the guidance to come back from that failure and produce something better than the student thought possible at first. This kind of resiliency requires a growth mindset, so we make sure to expose students to a detailed reading and discussion of Dweck's Mindsets work as early as possible. This practice has made a huge impact on our program, and I'm seeing students take on bigger challenges and produce better work in the long run.”

The report highlights findings from nontraditional-age versus traditional-age students. In short, nontraditional-age students—those defined as age 25 or older—adopted more of a productive mindset than their younger peers in some areas.

More than 82,000 students from 159 colleges responded to items about academic mindset on the 2018 Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE), which gathers information from students in the spring term about their experiences throughout the academic year.

The report’s supporting materials include discussion questions for colleges, a tool that connects Center survey items with the four components of academic mindset, focus group guides, and video clips from focus groups that the Center conducted with students and faculty about academic mindset.

The Center for Community College Student Engagement is a service and research initiative of the Program in Higher Education Leadership in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy in the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin.


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