Compassion for Students Is the Key to Student Persistence:

Changing Higher Ed Podcast 112 with Host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and Guest Marvin Krislov

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Compassion for Students Is the Key to Student Persistence- Changing Higher Ed Podcast

Changing Higher Ed Podcast 112 with Guest Marvin Krislov: Compassion for Students Is the Key to Persistence


When higher education programs align with compassion for students, student persistence and graduation rates change for the better. Pace University is proving this by offering unique types of support and resources for students. Among those resources is a 101-level course offered to all first-year students.

The course, called UNV 101, teaches students how to manage their time and finances, how to deal with stress and mental health issues, and other critical skills that students may not have learned at home or in school prior to arriving at college. Another part of the course is engaging students with career services early on.

The point of the course is to get students ready for the college experience. Students taking UNV 101 also have the chance to develop a relationship with their professors and other students. For professors, teaching UNV 101 provides a direct window into the student experience.  

Compassion for Students Starts at the Top

Marvin Krislov, the president of Pace University, is one of the very few presidents who still teaches classes – and he is one of the teachers of this 101-level course. Krislov’s recent article explains the link between this course and the level of kindness and compassion for students that he thinks is necessary, especially right now. His opinion is backed by real data that shows a clear connection between Pace’s compassionate model and heightened student persistence and success.

Krislov chooses to teach undecided students who have not yet chosen a major. At Pace, these students are called “exploring students.”

One of the foci in UNV 101 is for students to get a sense of what their four-year journey at Pace might look like, their Pace Path. Each professor goes over a range of options with each student, and by the end of their first semester, the goal is to narrow down their choices if they haven’t decided on a major.

Once students decide, they may choose to switch later while continuing to receive support and resources from the school. This type of flexibility is critical to how Pace weaves compassion into its educational framework.

Generational Transformation Through the Power of Education

Nearly 50% of Pace University’s students are the first in their families to go to college. As a first-generation student himself, Krislov understands that students from different socioeconomic backgrounds have unique needs. Even for students that are not first-generation, higher education today resembles little of what their parents probably experienced in college.

“We talk a lot about the transformational power of education, and to see the way we change people’s lives is inspiring. It’s what keeps me going.”

In addition, over a third of students are from families earning less than $40,000 a year, and many students are Pell-eligible. It is particularly important to ease these students into college for them to succeed.

“When students graduate from Pace, the average starting salary is in the low $60,000s. In that four-year period, we’ve already done something that changes the trajectory of that family, for one student.”

A Holistic Approach to Student Wellness 

Krislov is deeply aware of growing mental health concerns, which were rising even before the pandemic. Now that students have been in virtual environments for several years, it’s especially important to offer support and remove the stigma attached to seeking help from a mental health professional.

He looks at each student as a whole person, and instead of making assumptions, he asks students directly how they are doing. For a university president to be interacting with students on this level is truly rare, and Krislov says it’s as rewarding for him as he hopes it is for his students.

Pace does more than just offer resources for wellness. The school also has a Chief Wellness Officer, or CWO. “Wellness is part of my syllabus,” says Krislov. He points out that many student groups exist to make resources known and available, to offer support, and to show that mental health is just part of overall well-being.

Internships as a Way to Prepare the Next Generation for a Changing Workforce

Krislov also recognizes the context in which his students are heading for the workforce. Instead of spending 20+ years on the same job, as their parents did, college graduates today are likely to move around in their careers. That’s why Pace puts an emphasis on students’ ability to not just change their minds, but to gain lots of work experience while they’re still in school.

“We really aim for at least two internships, before a student graduates. That’s what we think is the minimum to launch students successfully in their careers.”

Some Pace students complete four or five internships before graduation. By gaining plenty of work experience while earning their degree, students get to try their majors on for size. They also emerge from college with a nice resume and lots of experience, which looks great to employers. 

If a student decides to transfer, the school does everything it can to help facilitate that change. There is no one-size-fits-all model because each situation is different for every student.

This is where the importance of good advising comes into play, and Pace truly differentiates itself in this area by offering very strong support. Each student has at least two mentors, an advisor, and at least one full-time faculty member who is also a mentor. As Krislov points out, these mentors can come from various places: athletic coaches, staff members, religious figures, and more.

The idea is to create a real sense of community to support each student. That means that peer mentoring is just as important.

“Our motto is opportunitas, which is Latin for opportunity or advantage. I’ve rarely seen an institution so aligned on its mission, which is student success.”

Moving Forward

  • Marvin Krislov’s students were finally able to see him smile as the mask mandate at Pace University was lifted.
  • With the focus on student compassion, Pace University is on the cusp of hitting a graduation rate record of 60% in six years.
  • Graduates recently attended the first in-person graduation in three years, and students from all three years were able to attend.

Three Recommendations for Higher Education Leaders and Boards

  • Meet students where they are to provide the services they need.  If a student is missing classes or assignments, it may be because they need support. You never know what’s going on in someone’s life until you ask.
  • Being visible and accessible is critical for leaders. During the pandemic, many leaders were just figures on Zoom. Now is the time to be out there, attending events and engaging with students whenever possible.
  • In many ways, the impact of the pandemic still leaves lots of unknowns. Institutions of higher education will have to continue to reimagine and redesign education in the next few years.



About the Host

Dr. Drumm McNaughton is a Higher Education Consultant, CEO of  The Change Leader Consulting Firm, and an international leader in transformational change for Higher Education.  

Related Posts:

Adapt to the Needs of Working Students – or Lose Them

Grow Enrollment and Retention with Personalizing the Student Experience

Helping Underrepresented Students Succeed

The Changing Face of Higher Ed Part 4: Student Issues

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