Leading for StudentsExercising the power inherent in the president’s office to nurture student development and success
Given the range of issues that cross a university president’s desk and the high-powered stakeholders presidents connect with, one might wonder where students fit in that heady mix. Busy presidents could merely mention students here and there, then cross that task off their list.
But most presidents don’t stop there. Many leaders will be quick to tell you that students are their raison d’etre—the essence of why they come to work every day. And they back that talk with action, engaging deeply in the hard work of actively serving students. In fact, it can be argued that on many campuses, the president is the students’ strongest advocate.
Presidents fulfill this role via different channels, using a range of tools. The work might take the form of envisioning and then pushing for academic structures, policies, programs and practices that support and nurture students. Presidents might advocate for policies that help students at state and national levels. And then there is the personal commitment to simply get to know students and make a point of interacting with them and understanding their concerns.
Breaking Down RoadblocksThrough Course Redesign
Improving graduation rates. Making teaching more student centered. Incorporating more instructional technology. It seems every day there is a new solution that surfaces in the sea change surging through higher education to help institutions respond to today’s students, keep costs in check and improve the educational experience. The challenge we face is identifying the best solutions and then hoping they will be accepted within the culture of our university campuses.
Course redesign is increasingly seen as a potentially powerful solution for institutions looking to improve their graduation and retention rates; the University System of Maryland (USM) has embraced it as a key strategy.
In 2006, Chancellor William E. Kirwan kicked off USM’s Maryland Course Redesign Initiative, which issued a call to its member institutions to take at least one of their “bottleneck” courses— those introductory classes that tend to weed out freshmen early on—and revamp it so it embraces more technology-based, student-centered principles. The goal was to make learning more innovative and efficient. USM was selected as the first-ever state system in higher education to put this recommendation into practice through a partnership with the National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT).
Strengthening the Education Continuum to Increase College Readiness
At the heart of America’s greatness has been its commitment to strong public education. Today, America confronts a national crisis that AASCU institutions cannot ignore: Too many students are coming to college unprepared, and the problem is worsening. In a world where talent and innovation will drive national, state and local competitiveness, this is a threat to the very future of our nation.
Measures of educational achievement in the United States show the country on a downward trajectory, especially when compared with achievement levels in other developed and developing countries; our institutions are devoting too many resources to remedial education, and despite this, graduation rates are far below what the country needs, even when measured after six years rather than the traditional four; and too many students are leaving our institutions without degrees but with significant debt.
Over the past 18 months, an AASCU Task Force on College Readiness—co-chaired by James Votruba, president emeritus, Northern Kentucky University, and Tomás Morales, president, California State University, San Bernardino (former president, CUNY Staten Island) and comprised of 12 presidents and chancellors from across the nation—has examined the urgent college readiness challenge. Its report (to be published in October), Serving America’s Future: Increasing College Readiness, advocates a comprehensive approach to college readiness that includes steps AASCU institutions can take to address this crisis.
Es El MomentoPresidents & Practices
Committed to the success of our communities, California State University, Dominguez Hills joined Univision Los Angeles, the California State University Chancellor’s Office, and numerous other partners four years ago to launch a Spanish-speaking education event, “Es El Momento.” This event is part of Univision’s social marketing, multi-media campaign aimed at increasing the graduation rate among Hispanics.
Held on the CSU Dominguez Hills campus since 2008, Es El Momento has grown from 15,000 attendees in its first year to nearly 50,000 in 2011. CSU Dominguez Hills is uniquely positioned to play a leadership role with this program, not only because of the institution’s student make-up (over 45 percent Latino Students), but also because its geographic location is central to numerous communities with a large Latino population.
Es El Momento seeks to inform and motivate and provides resources to Hispanic parents and students that convey the importance of education from preschool to college. Additionally, parents receive the information and tools necessary to effectively support their children. The program addresses important educational milestones, a parent’s impact on a child’s attitude towards school, and the early warning signs of dropout. The program has now expanded to include issues of health and wellness.