With an increased number of colleges in the higher education landscape, and, in many places, dwindling feeder popuations and decreasing state appropriations, institutions are working on strategies to boost their relevance in the 21st century and give them a leg-up in the marketplace.
We talked to three higher education leaders who are transforming the way higher education is viewed in their states. Fayetteville State University Chancellor Dr. James Anderson, University of North Dakota Sytem Chancellor Dr. Mark Hagerott and Texas Higher Education Commissioner Dr. Raymund Paredes say focusing on academic realignment, being forward-thinking and increased marketability of grads are key to the future success of U.S. colleges.
To increase campus accountability, tie resource distribution to performance
“We recognized that we needed an equitable way to convince faculty and departments to both be more accountable to assess what they’re doing and to tie resource distribution [to] how well they were demonstrating that they were accomplishing their goals and objectives, delivering a high quality product to our students,” said Fayetteville State University Chancellor Dr. James Anderson.
At Fayetteville State University, a new Continuous Improvement Report was unveiled in the wake of the 2008 recession.
“Priority drives your funding in a recession,” said Anderson, adding college administrators must “Really keep your eye focused on what you can build. You can’t fund everything.”
Anderson suggested the following should drive funding priorities on campus:
Examine the quality and the type of advising the students receive and attach a metric to it by looking closely at graduation rates by major and department, first and second year indicators, and courses with the highest percentage of C’s, D’s, F’s and W’s.
Consolidate — or close — programs to increase efficiencies. “Sometimes I would visit campuses, I would see that campuses had 25 or 30 academic programs that had one major. If you have one major, you’re paying a faculty member $60,000 or $70,000 to teach one major and you look at what that major is bringing in, in terms of tuition” and realize it is a bad institutional investment, said Anderson, who is also a former member of Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ accrediting board.
Reallocate revenue from shuttered programs to programs that align with federal funding and job market priorities. For Fayetteville State, this has meant an emphasis on “cyber, disaster and emergency management, health management, areas that we really know are growing in the future.”
Invest in faculty development, particularly for younger faculty charged with teaching first-year courses.
Encourage total-campus leadership. Empower faculty and staff to present ideas about how to make the campus better — and actually consider those ideas. It will promote ownership over outcomes and bolster the success of the institution.
Anderson said for institutions of higher education, academic affairs has to be the preeminent priority around which everything else is centered.
“If you don’t have a business model that is specific to academic affairs,” you’re doing it all wrong, he said. Budget priorities should emphasize academic programs and supports over extracurriculars like band travel and uniforms, especially if the institution is struggling financially. (“If you are having financial issues on your campus and you have 300 people in your band and you’re paying [for their] travel and paying to wash their uniforms but you can’t even hire faculty to teach your programs, that’s a problem,” said Anderson.)
To this idea, he said “Academic affairs is really where you’re going to grow your institution,” he said. Anderson suggested institutions suggested campuses “align student affairs with academic affairs. Develop more co-curricular transcripts, more co-curricular internships. … [Align] what used to be the traditional career center, align it more with academic affairs.”
Not only that, he said, find ways to tie academic programs to the needs of a global marketplace. For example, “taking our regular disaster, emergency management and fire management program and figuring out how to tie it to Africa, because the military is tied to AFRICOM now,” said Anderson. “Why can’t Fayetteville State base where they’re coming for their training?”
Plan younger: Increase collaboration with early childhood, K-12 to increase college outcomes
In North Dakota, North Dakota University System Chancellor Dr. Mark Hagerott has laid out a 2030 plan, which examines the pipeline of students, starting with Pre-K, who will be coming through the system’s ranks. The approach, he said, is “collaborative, forward-looking and centered on the human aspect of this” to discern “what’s best for our young people and adult learners.”
“Let’s say you have a five-year plan and you’re going to start ramping up … you want to start producing seniors in college who are graduating with these skills. But those kids are rising seniors in high school now, and it would have been helpful [to have interventions] when they were in middle school,” he said.
“You could throw away an android, pick up an iphone, that didn’t work, dump it and try new stuff. But it’s not like that with human beings,” Hagerott said, commenting on the ever-changing nature of ed strategy and policy. “That’s fine in a hedge fund culture … but you’re talking about someone’s kids and their families. So we like to take a little bit more deliberate approach … we’re thinking about the kids that are just entering the system of education -- either pre-K or K and [we’re] thinking long-term.”
Hagerott says the following need to be considered when drafting a long-term strategic plan:
Where would we want them to be — What will constitute “college readiness” in 15 years?
What is the nature of the demographics shift in the students coming through the pipeline? In North Dakota, he said, there are “more and more women on campus, fewer men -- what does that mean” for student services and other aspects of student life?
How can higher ed collaborate with the community and local schools to address the changing needs of an evolving student population?
Where do we want to be as a state? “Let’s try to envision the future together,” he said, emphasizing the need to bring all of the stakeholders to the table in drafting the plan.
What are things we want to do in the current legislative session — or is there something we want to just study around longer-term solutions to meet our goals?
In what direction is the local industry moving, and how does that impact our campus?
In North Dakota, there is the benefit, Hagerott said, of having an already highly-collaborative community, which he says will be critical as society at large and higher ed, in particular, continue to face massive disruptions.
“The world is tipping upside down,” he said. “Just look at the news. The young people are not irrational to go, ‘hey this feels different this time.’” But Hagerott said despite the changes around them, “the most important thing underneath all of this is they learn how to learn,” which includes an increased emphasis on critical thinking and adaptability.
Key to the students’ success will be high collaboration between the four-year system, the community college system, the tribal colleges in the state -- North Dakota has one of the highest concentrations of these institutions in the country -- and the tribal communities, with industry, the K-12 sector, government and all of those with a stake in the future of education in the state.
Hagerott said the 2030 plan brings all of the stakeholders “together in an integrative way … with a long-term view,” which he said is “the unique part” about what North Dakota is doing.
“There’s some things that I feel pretty confident I have a good glimpse of what’s coming … but in the bigger picture, I can’t represent the whole state,” he said of the collaboration imperative. “My vision for our state is we are one of the most adaptive education systems in the country.”
Sensing changes in technology and the socioeconomic standing in the state requires the help of people who might not normally be sitting in a college system’s strategic planning meeting, he said, adding, “To do that, you need a lot of people in the room.”
Focus on marketability of graduates
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s 60x30Tx strategic plan is also looking to 2030, which sets a goal of 60% higher education attainment by 2030 to vault “Texas to the front ranks of states, in terms of educational attainment,” said Texas Commissioner of Higher Education Dr. Raymund Paredes.
The plan, which represents a heavy collaboration with the Texas Workforce Commission, focuses on an increase in teaching marketable skills and manageable student debt, which Paredes said was influenced by conversations with leaders throughout the state.
“One of the major complaints about higher ed around the country is that we’re producing too many English majors, philosophy majors, history majors,” said Paredes, who is a former English professor “hell-bent on preserving the humanities and making those graduates more marketable.”
The discussion of what majors students should be steered towards is “the wrong question,” he said. “The right question is what can we do to make certain that all of our graduates … have marketable skills when they graduate. … “One of the things that we’re doing is we’re developing ways in which we can make certain that that occurs.”
Some of the ways to do this, he said, include:
Working with local businesses to increase the number of paid internships available “so students can actually learn about businesses by having experience in them” without having to decide between a need to work and a need to get experience in the field of study.
Expanding academic credit for paid internships to help students stay on track for graduation.
Emphasizing good work ethic, critical thinking skills and the ability to communicate well in written form for students across disciplines.
Taking steps to eradicate the “summer melt,” which describes a trend of students leaving for the summer and not enrolling for the fall semester, by incorporating a combination of intrusive advising and increasing diagnostic interventions. “We’re taking steps to make sure students will have financial aid available in the summer,” he said, to help students who may want to continue taking classes in summer months.
Through partnerships with the corporate sector, securing “more contemporaneous equipment for students in technical education to train on” and increasing the technology offerings at institutions in the state.
Affordability is also a key component of the attainment goal, said Paredes, who boasts Texas is “doing extraordinary things” on that front.
Among them, he said, “We’re looking at ways in which we can inform students more effectively about holding down their debt.” Presently, he said, there are 10 Texas colleges that offer affordable baccalaureate degrees for less than $15,000 per year.