A Molecular Sociology of Student Success in Undergraduate Education
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This study explores the promise of student success in undergraduate education that exceeds its standard definition and measurement as retention and graduation rates. The research paradox framing this dissertation is: In what ways can universities support conceptions of undergraduate student success that escape measurement? This paradox is explored through two analytic questions: What do the orientations of student success in the American higher education literature produce? and What does the map of student success at Great State University produce? To explore these questions, this study utilizes assemblage theory, a theorization of the composition of the conditions that produce our social fields to develop a molecular sociology, the methodology by which this study opens up the determinate world to the map of the assemblage. A genealogy of the undergraduate education literature explores what the orientations of student success produce. This section first destabilizes the notion that student success is a collection of literature that moves forward linearly with the march of scientific measurement. Second, it provides the orientation of the current student success assemblage in American higher education, data-driven control. A cartography of student success at Great State University next maps the orientations and disorientations of the first year of GSU’s student success initiative to data-driven control. In this mapping, we explore the initiative’s continued production of the in/dividual student: the dividual, or data point subject produced by data-driven control through the justification of student-centered practices. We also explore the moments that escaped the capture of data-driven control, or liberal education. Through a compilation of cartographic locations, we come into relation with student success at GSU as an assemblage of indeterminate molecularities productive of determinate reality. This study concludes with a call for a fractal student success, a student success incommensurate with itself and its locations. This expansive success is fostered by critical methodologies and practices. Narrow policy changes suggested by many organizations active in student success serve to re/produce data-driven control. Change in our students’ lives and possibilities will come from unyielding experimentations in research, practice, and policy to warp and overthrow data-driven control, and all assemblages that follow.