Researchers and policy makers seeking to increase college graduation rates are exploring whether abilities that go beyond cognitive skills can support students’ persistence and success. A committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine was asked to identify interpersonal and intrapersonal competencies that are related to undergraduate persistence and success and to examine how to assess these competencies.
The committee’s report, Supporting Students’ College Success: The Role of Assessment of Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Competencies (2017), identifies promising competencies, offers guidance on assessing them, and cautions against high-stakes use of currently available assessments.
Based on the research, eight competencies were identified as malleable and related to college success. The three at the bottom of the infographic show the most promising evidence.
Interventions that require very little time and money to implement have helped students develop these eight competencies. Some of these interventions have been particularly effective for underrepresented student groups that are most at risk for academic failure.
Having identified promising competencies, the committee considered how college and university stakeholders—such as faculty, administrators, and guidance staff—could use assessments of the competencies. High-quality assessments could potentially support student success in many ways—for example, by helping institutions and researchers measure whether interventions are working, and by helping institutions to identify students who would benefit from particular support programs or services.
Assessments of intra- and interpersonal competencies should meet the same high standards as those of cognitive competencies. These include reliability and precision; validity, the extent to which an assessment measures what is intended and provides sound information for a given purpose; and fairness, the extent to which an assessment provides all intended examinees the same unencumbered opportunity to demonstrate their competency and carries the same meaning for all students. However, many current assessments of the eight identified competencies fall short in showing evidence related to these three standards and predominantly use self-report surveys. Such surveys have well-known limitations.
Given these limitations, the committee recommends that institutions not make high-stakes decisions carrying serious consequences for individuals (e.g., admissions decisions) based solely on current assessments of the eight identified competencies.