Student Success: What's the role of Governance?
Colleges and universities around the world have been striving to develop that perfect formula for student success. Why then, does it prove so elusive? And what “instruments” are available today that may bring your institution closer to that goal? Governance can help.
I liken student success to a symphony, where every participant plays a unique and vital role. The same is true of higher education: from the presidents who direct the mission to the faculty who create the curriculum; the admissions counselors who recruit students to the financial aid officers who assist enrollees with financial aid. And the list doesn’t stop there. The student lifecycle is vast, interwoven and complex, requiring strength not just within individual departments, but as a whole — as an ensemble, if you will.
Governance is “the score” that guides the entire institution. More than just a set of policies and practices, it’s a vision that defines:
- Whom the institution serves
- How well it serves them
- Where to align resources
Institutional leaders must first agree upon whom they serve, recognizing that today’s students may look very different from tomorrow’s. It’s important to take a critical look at the university’s role in the community, its ability to produce graduates with marketable skills and the types of students it wishes to attract. These guideposts will dictate the strategy for institution-wide change, from student recruitment to financial aid decisions to the academic portfolio.
Next, how well does the university support students across the various pillars of student success: academic ability, financial capability, wellness, and sense of belonging and engagement? Student retention and graduation rates are impacted by factors beyond academics and costs, so it’s valuable to gauge effectiveness across all aspects of student life. One method that is gaining momentum with institutions today is the development of personas. By creating profiles around which students are succeeding and which ones are not, university leaders may better identify the barriers to student success and develop solutions to address them.
Which leads us to where to align resources. Based on the previous exercise, an institution should then have a clearer vision of which areas need to be improved and integrated. It can then be more strategic about where to focus its resources, and in doing so, improve student outcomes, advance the college’s reputation and better serve the community.
"I liken student success to a symphony, where every participant plays a unique and vital role."
Governance can rally an entire institution around a shared goal, informing decisions on which students to recruit, the portfolio of programs to offer, the technologies needed and more. It provides a common understanding of where there is discord, and guides the institution back to harmony. Governance — when done well — can mean the difference between a “symphony” and a “cacophony.” Between student retention and attrition. Between short-term viability and sustainable, long-term success.
I’ll be exploring student success further in future blogs, diving deeper into some of the topics broached here. If you’d like to hear more conversations about student success in the meantime, please listen to our recent podcast series.