In the article “Student Success – 3 BIG Questions”, Kathe Pelletier, Director of Student Success Community Programs for EDUCAUSE provides her readers with a clear-cut framework for conversation between cross disciplinary departments.
The author provides examples of how different stakeholders hear different perspectives of the same challenge – student success. For example, advisors hear the student’s macro perspective – which may include: a) confusion about the curricula, b) concerns about wasted transfer credits, c) food or housing insecurity or d) a student’s sense of belonging – all potential barriers to navigate a degree program. Yet, instructors see the students day to day academic performance such as: a) time on task, b) understanding of the fundamentals and c) ability to keep pace with the activities required to learn a new skill. Both the advisor and the instructor observe different barriers at different times in different courses – all extending across semesters – as a student moves towards a multi-year goal.
The most important perspective is the student’s. I like to compare BIG challenges in education to my previous career life in addressing BIG challenges in healthcare. Both sectors rely on different stakeholders (nurses, therapists, doctors) organized in departments (admissions, surgery, social services, etc) to perform duties in a coordinated fashion to augment the patient outcome. In healthcare, the doctor, nurse, nor the rehab specialist cannot determine the outcome without the patient’s input. Student success or student outcomes start with the intent on the student’s part. Is the intended outcome; a) career advancement, b) personal enrichment or c) certificate and degree completion? Neither the instructor nor the institution can define student success without knowing the student’s goal. Instructors and institutions can advance their practice of predictive modeling, but we must start with a baseline on the student’s intent. Completion of gateway courses, credit accumulation, and full-time continuous enrollment are all indicators that registrars, advisors, instructors and mentors (different stakeholders) can use to engage in a shared dialogue directly with the student. In Kathe’s article, she elaborates on more actionable indicators such as timely registration, early and/or frequent activity in the learning management system, and participation in advising appointments.
It is not an easy endeavor to coordinate a team approach to promote student success when so many factors can affect one student, let alone a student body of 5,000 or 15,000 … Ask your colleagues, “Has each student (on our campus) established a purpose for their course of study, identified skills desired, and know their post-college aspirations?” Not likely.
So what actions can you take that are meaningful towards the collective aspiration of student success? Once all stakeholders are unified on a common perspective, the institution is suited to create actionable solutions using ‘creative thinking’ or what our team calls ‘all brains on deck.’
Solutions become possible once you break the problem into smaller subtopics. Going beyond “talking about” challenges at a macro level (i.e., retention and graduation rates), to choosing new approaches, can start with a dialogue between representatives from two departments or technology-enabled multiple department conversations.
Those colleges and universities that are making headway on BIG challenges are the ones that are coordinating cross-talk between departments. This kind of cross-talk precedes strategizing on becoming student-focused; otherwise it’s theoretical.
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