Stockton University students walk across the school's seal.

Michael Ein

Last fall, almost half of the freshmen entering Richard Stockton College took a test that measured not how much they knew, but how likely they were to succeed in college and graduate on time.

Called Success Navigator, the 30-minute assessment looks at so-called "soft-skills" such as time management, motivation, commitment and social support. The results were given to students and advisers as a way to help them identify and correct weak areas. Stockton was one of 20 colleges piloting the new test, which is available to colleges nationwide this fall at a cost of $5 per assessment.

Harvey Kesselman, Stockton provost and vice president for academics, said he is excited about the assessment because it goes beyond the SAT or grades to look at skills that will help students both in college and later on in their careers. He said that based on the responses, they will review student success and retention to see if the assessment results matched student performance during their freshmen year.

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"It gives us more data on individuals and patterns among students," he said. "Our academic advisers can use it to identify high-risk students and intervene, even if that is just making students more aware of their own strengths and weaknesses."

The test was developed by Educational Testing Service in Princeton. Ross Markle, associate research scientist for ETS, said student success is a huge issue for two- and four-year colleges across the nation, which are looking for ways to improve their graduation rates. Nationally, only about 56 percent of college students graduate within six years.

"This is designed to identify students most likely not to succeed," he said.

Markle said the pilot program was designed to see how colleges administer and use the test and its results. Stockton got an impressive number of responses, he said, while other colleges had very poor participation. Whether or not to make the survey mandatory for all students, and how to do it, are all issues colleges must address.

Markle said the new assessment is useful because so many more students are going to college, and not just the "best and the brightest." Research has shown that perseverance and other psycho-social skills, what has come to be called "grit," are just as important as academic ability to success.

He said if a student goes to class regularly, does the work and has a support system to get help, he or she doesn't have to be the smartest person in the class to do well.

"Success is not just about grades," he said. "It's also about behavior and attitudes."

Developing those skills can also improve students' employability after they graduate. Kesselman said the skills identified in the test also align with the Essential Learning Outcomes that Stockton has identified as expecting all students to have by the time they graduate.

"Employers are looking for more than SAT scores and grade point averages," he said. "They want to know if you can work with a team, or if you are self-motivated. These are skills students can work on while they are here."

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