Finding Their Way to CompletionGraduation rates can improve with a push from universities
Institutions of higher learning are using complex computer programs to keep students on track to graduate, are limiting student options when it comes to choosing classes, majors and minors, and even forcibly graduating students who have amassed significantly more credit hours than are needed to earn a degree.
Getting students to graduate, and in a timely manner, is at the top of the to-do list for many of today’s schools, and education officials are becoming increasingly thoughtful and creative in pushing students to earn a diploma in a reasonable amount of time.
Part of this new focus comes from an emphasis placed on timely graduation by President Obama, who has called for America to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. Though the United States once topped that list, in 2010 America ranked 12th among 36 developed nations for the proportion of college graduates.
GOODBYE and HELLOMaking Succession Planning a Priority
Saying goodbye to a president—especially one whose term of service has been marked by numerous achievements and triumphs—can be bittersweet for any college or university community. While people generally extend good wishes to the departing president, there’s often a collective apprehension about the organization’s future and the new leader coming to the helm.
“It’s a mixture of great hope for a new chapter, and yet there’s also anxiety,” says Jessica Kozloff, president of Academic Search, Inc. and former president of Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. “There are very conflicting emotions—sadness to see somebody go that you really admire and have worked well with, and yet excitement about a new person coming in with new ideas.”
When the outgoing president is leaving the institution on good terms, he or she can play a valuable role preparing
the institution, as well as the successor, for the leadership change. Linwood Rose, president of James Madison University (Va.) since 1998, says he was “thoughtful” about choosing the timeline for his upcoming retirement to ensure a smooth transition for the university. He wanted to make sure the board’s search committee had ample time to carry out the selection process, but also wanted to make sure the university climate was positive, with capable leaders in place to provide seamless governance and a sustained commitment to JMU’s mission. When his successor, who was named in December 2011, takes over the reins in July, Rose is confident that he’s leaving the university positioned for continued success.
The reward of succession planning, says Rose, is that “the next academic year and subsequent ones will not be traumatic for the institution. The new president will be different from me, having different talents and abilities, but hopefully the university community will see a continuing of traditions that have already been built here.”
Staking our claim in researchA strong case can be made that AASCU institutions are leaders in research, in the sense that they serve regional communities through applied research in ways that traditional research universities do not.
Mention “research” and “university” in the same sentence and often the focus automatically turns to the handful of institutions that regularly top the list of federal support for research. But that’s a myopic point of view.
Drill down the list of universities that conduct research and you will find hundreds of institutions that also make significant contributions to the body of knowledge. Many of these institutions are distinctive for two critical reasons: they tend to conduct more applied research than basic, and the research they undertake focuses strongly on answering questions and solving problems that are of direct interest locally or regionally. This is the universe that AASCU institutions inhabit. Indeed, one can say that AASCU institutions “own” this universe.
AASCU institutions may not command the scale of federal research dollars that the largest research universities garner. But by other important measures—such as their significant contributions to regional economic development and workforce preparation and their focus on undergraduate learning—they in many ways outshine more well-financed institutions.
Building a Culture of Student SuccessPresidents & Practices
In 2006-07, Indiana University East decided to address historically low retention rates among its degree-seeking students. The campus embarked on an aggressive plan to improve those rates despite a declining state appropriation. The key elements of the model are described below.
Data collection and campus-wide discussions. Data collected from a student satisfaction survey specifically designed to identify retention risk factors was supplemented by annual National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) data and used to set budget priorities and structure campus-wide discussions regarding retention and persistence strategies.
Prospering Political FrontEndSights
It’s a big challenge to be a successful college president. An AASCU president in 2012 is called to be both an academic and political leader. To many academics, the role of “political leader” is indeed a heavy burden.
This burden is particularly challenging given current state appropriations and economic change. AASCU’s “Red Balloon Project” defines current circumstances as campuses having to respond to two pressures—lack of funding and rising expectations. Some call it the “new normal.”
After spending 12 years in the Michigan Senate, 14 years as a college president and four years as a commissioner, I offer what I consider “unusual” suggestions for presidents to prosper politically.