Historically, colleges and universities have primarily focused on whether incoming students are adequately prepared for college/university life. The question, “Are students college-ready?” is a common ask among educators and administrators. Through this lens, conversations about admission numbers, student persistence, and graduation rates are prioritized as a way to measure student success.
While these traditional measures of success should still be considered, there are also very real and ongoing challenges that threaten students: accessibility, financial barriers, technology shifts, lack of diversity, and other roadblocks. For many, the path from high school to college isn’t as clear – or as appealing – as it once seemed. Now, higher education changemakers have urged colleges and universities to ask a different question:
Is your institution student-ready?
If you’re an educator or administrator, this shift in perspective is probably welcome “food for thought.” Real change, however, lies in your willingness to explore the concept of student readiness on a deeper level. Let’s dive in.
What Does it Mean for a College or University to Be Student-Ready?
In the book, Becoming a Student-Ready College, the authors (all of whom are leaders in higher education) explain the ecosystem of a student-ready institution and raise an important question about why so much of “the burden of readiness and preparation” falls on incoming students. This is how the authors define what it means to be student-ready:
“ student-ready college is one that strategically and holistically advances student success, and works tirelessly to educate all students for civic and economic participation in a global, interconnected society. At student-ready colleges, all services and activities – from admissions, to the business office, to the classroom, and even to campus security – are intentionally designed to facilitate students’ progressive advancement toward college completion and positive post-college outcomes. Student-ready colleges are committed not only to student achievement, but also to organizational learning and institutional improvement.”
At student-ready institutions, there’s an active understanding that anyone who works for the school has the capacity to influence students’ education in a positive way. From admissions staff to campus security, everyone is a potential educator – and should be treated as such.
As with most opportunities for innovation, there will always be pushback. Some educators and administrators long for the days when motivated, high-achieving students didn’t seem to need as much direction. The authors of Becoming a Student-Ready College argue that this “golden age in American higher education” never existed:
“. . . the idea that an ideal student or ideal college existed ‘once upon a time’ is nothing more than a myth. America’s colleges and universities have always appealed to students with diverse interests and levels of academic preparation, and resources have always had to be negotiated. The challenge for us today is that our system of higher education has grown exponentially over the last three centuries—and growth continues. As it grows, so do the numbers of students who need additional support and preparation.”
…The challenge for us today is that our system of higher education has grown exponentially over the last three centuries—and growth continues. As it grows, so do the numbers of students who need additional support and preparation.
Learning Proficiency and Empathy are Essential for Student-Ready Institutions
One critical element of a student-ready institution is the assurance of student proficiency and quality of learning outcomes. In other words, do students receive the high-quality education that your brochures imply? Are they truly competent in the things they set out to learn? What opportunities do students have to expand their understanding of a subject? How accessible are those opportunities?
To get benchmark metrics on student proficiency, schools can use The American Association of Colleges and Universities VALUE rubrics. Each of the 16 rubrics can be measured against students’ original work to evaluate different learning outcomes such as creative thinking, ethical reasoning, inquiry and analysis, and oral communication. From there, educators can make informed and targeted decisions about learning opportunities, educator development, campus initiatives, and more.
The second (and equally essential) element of a student-ready institution is a combination of care, empathy, and overall support. A 2018 Gallup poll found that college graduates were 1.7 times more likely to experience higher levels of well-being if an educator “cared about them as a person.”
Think about the topics typically discussed during a professor or advisor’s office hours: missed deadlines, extensions, grade disputes. What if some of that time was spent on students’ strengths or unique feedback? More importantly, what if educators, administrators, staff, and everyone working on campus mirrored the soft skills students should be learning on campus? What kind of professional development and leadership would that require?
College graduates were 1.7 times more likely to experience higher levels of well-being if an educator “cared about them as a person.”
Bureaucratic Roadblocks Are Inevitable
Developing a student-ready school calls for significant institutional changes. Most likely, bureaucratic roadblocks will come up. If you’re willing to take on this challenge, know that you are doing powerful, persistent work. In the next post, we’ll explore some practical ways you can spark change – and go over real-life examples of student-ready institutions.