Recently, I had the privilege of facilitating a panel of college presidents, each of whom had emerged from a career in student affairs. These individuals represented modest-sized institutions, both public and private, and included a community college. One of the first questions I asked them was about the myriad issues confronting higher education, such as gender-based violence and the rape culture, cost of attendance, learning outcomes assessment, competency-based education, state budget cuts, guns on campus, etc. I wanted to know which of these drew most of their attention. I must admit their answer–they were near unanimous in their response–surprised me.
As one president put it, “What I think about upon waking is the same thing that is on my mind as I fall asleep–recruitment and retention.” It related somewhat to the one national issue I forgot to put on my list–the “completion agenda.” Not that recruitment and retention aren’t important, of course they are, but I thought the attention of these presidents would be drawn to some of the hotter, more politically salient issues we are seeing in national media and that recruitment and retention would be left to others at the institution. I was wrong.
Perhaps I should not have been surprised, but what was clear was that these leaders, while grappling with all the issues facing their colleagues at bigger, better resourced, and better known institutions, had a core focus: getting students in, getting them to stay and succeed, getting them to graduate, and getting them launched into a career or further study. This was the one thing they thought about more than anything else.
The presidents want everyone at their institutions focused on this and had a few points for student affairs professionals to consider about this topic:
Get Involved in Recruitment – The presidents wanted to see their student affairs staff more involved in recruitment. They did not suggest that it should be in the way that admissions counselors recruit, but that student affairs professionals should seek ways to assist with the recruitment effort, including helping with on-campus visits of prospective students, developing sibling programs, finding ways to get out into the community, and finding ways to make student affairs work and successes visible beyond that boundaries of the institution in order to market the institution.
Question: How can you and your student affairs colleagues be more involved in recruiting students and promoting the institution?
Forget About Building Bridges to Academics – From the perspective of these institutional leaders, there was no academic affairs, no student affairs, and no divide between them. There was only the work of the institution–the success of students. I didn’t get the sense that these presidents were being naive about the challenges facing student affairs in this regard, but believed that we have to get over ourselves and the perceived slights we experience from our academic colleagues and focus on the priorities of the institution. The presidents believed that the obstacles to trans-institutional partnerships and collaboration are in us (our thinking, our perspectives, our assumptions, our fear), and not in others.
Question: How are you stopping yourself from building programs and initiatives that cross institutional boundaries?
Every Student Counts – It may sound trite or obvious, but for these presidents it was the absolute truth. Most were at institutions where a shift in enrollment of a handful of students would be noticed financially. So, while they want to see community-wide programs focused on assisting students, they also want to see a recognition of the importance of every single student. One example given was that in disciplinary cases where expulsion is recommended they want to see alternatives considered that would keep the student in school. And for them, it wasn’t just about the finances, but the recognition that once separated from higher education the chances that the student would complete his/her education dramatically declined.
Questions: How can you and your student affairs colleagues better identify individual students who are in danger of leaving? What can YOU do about that?
So, consider what your president is thinking about. It might surprise you!
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