Who are your future students?

Do you know who your future students are and is your institution ready for them?

that of Nathan Grawe Agile College prompted this question and many others. I started reading the book last week and was struck by the alignment between the challenges identified by Grawe and the work of the American Council on Education’s Learner Success Lab (LSL). I am an advisor for the lab and enjoyed the built-in student success frameworks provided by the LSL model – link here. I was fortunate enough to serve as an advisor at two institutions: Western Oregon University (WOU) in Cohort 1 and New Jersey City University (NJCU) in Cohort 2. I hope to visit both universities in February, but COVID- 19 seems to lead our travel plans these days, so I take a flexible approach and planning for in-person and virtual tours

I was able to hear Grawe’s opening speech at the 2021 New England Commission on Higher Education meeting last December and immediately added his book, Agile College, to my top reading list of 2022. I’ll have more to say about the book once I’m done, but for now I want to share some initial thoughts on the synergy between Grawe’s thinking on coping strategies and tactics Disruptive Change (Chapter 5) and the work of ACE’s Learner Success Lab.

One of the primary goals of this chapter is to use tactics rather than strategies to achieve institutional enrollment goals. Tactics are short-term, somewhat desperate moves. Strategies change the culture of your institution.

The emphasis on an “integrated approach” – a strategy of recruiting, retaining, persisting and training new groups of students requires institutions to take a more holistic approach. The Learner Success Lab takes this approach by focusing the learner and their success in the work that our institutions do. One of my highlights in the lab was that while our students don’t care about our organizational charts, the way we organize our institutions has deep and lasting impacts on our students’ success or failure.

Unfortunately, most of our institutions are not organized to optimize the success of our current students and even less of our future students. Instead, we’re organized by business functions and inherit flowcharts that we change over time but don’t change drastically because – trains have to keep running and how to build a new train (or ship / plane) ) At the same time?

This prompts a series of questions: What are you doing as you work towards a new structure? Are you creating a task force, task force or committee focused on learner success? Do institutional leaders allow these groups to make recommendations to reorganize their institutions to facilitate success? How can leaders encourage and empower faculty and staff to think bigger, bolder, and outside the box? Maybe they can start by saying that nothing is wrong and that no idea is too radical.

In the life of a student, everything we do intersects. However, almost all the obstacles they face are the ones we have created. Our systems do not talk to each other. Our units do not interact or report to different vice-presidents with different missions. The mission of our institutions is focused on the success of our students. Every leader should ask themselves how does my unit contribute to the success of our students?

One of the first alignment points for learner success is definition. Institutions ask themselves – How does the institution define learner success? What are the characteristics of a successful learner? What does a successful learner look like? What are the obstacles to the success of our learners? How can we remove them?

This is often a policy or a set of policies that need to be changed or implemented more systematically. Or it could be a faulty or outdated process that needs to be fixed.

More and more, the biggest obstacles to the success of our students are life situations that pre-exist their stay in our establishments. As we recruit new groups of students, we will likely see more students facing these challenges. Some of the most pressing issues our students face include food insecurity and child care. Our students can’t be successful if they don’t have enough to eat, and they can’t come to campus if they don’t have daycare.

Does your establishment have a pantry? Are you helping your eligible students get their SNAP benefits? Do you offer help to students facing housing insecurity? What do you do when you find students sleeping in the library? Do you have a plan in place? Do you provide flexible online and virtual options for students who cannot make it to campus for in-person events? Do you know who your students are? Do you know what they need to be successful? Are you able to strategically reorient your establishments to create the conditions for their success?

And, to Grawe’s point, do you know who your future students are and are you ready for them? What should you do to prepare for the success of your future students?

Mary Churchill is the former Head of Policy and Planning for Mayor Kim Janey of the City of Boston and current Associate Dean for Policy Initiatives and Community Engagement at Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University. She is co-author of When Colleges Close: Leading in Times of Crisis and an ICF Certified Leadership Coach.

Leave a Comment