In a recent post for higher education leaders, we explored what it might look like to switch the focus from “college-ready students” to “student-ready colleges.”
The idea is that most students (especially those just out of high school) can only prepare so much for their transition into adulthood and college life. The onus must be on the institution to cultivate an environment students need to thrive. Of course, this is easier said than done. Fortunately, a wealth of resources have popped up in recent years – including the book, Becoming a Student-Ready College.
The authors (all leaders in higher education) explain that at student-ready colleges and universities, “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.”
That sentiment is echoed by Hollins University President Mary Dana Hinton. In a thought-provoking article for Inside Higher Ed, Hinton calls for a more holistic approach to student support that aligns with the concept of a student-ready institution. Hinton also argues that these changes demand new levels of collaboration and cultural change.
This means that student-ready schools must venture beyond formal mission statements or temporary initiatives and into ongoing, full-service student support systems. With this level of commitment, some bureaucratic roadblocks are inevitable. However, we can look at a few schools for inspiration:
The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater: Work-Study Program
The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater started a student employment program that emphasizes practical skills like handling cash transactions, solving IT issues, and communicating interculturally. The program’s curriculum is developed by existing staff members, and everyone who works on campus is invited to become an educator within the program.
California State University, Fullerton: Town Hall Meetings
California State University, Fullerton opened a series of town hall meetings for faculty, staff, and students. The open discussions unpacked the university’s strategic plan, gaps in student success, and opportunities for more high-impact education. The university also runs a certified Supplemental Instruction program that provides weekly, peer-led group study sessions for students taking bottleneck, key gateway, or historically difficult courses.
Hollins University: The Imagination Campaign
In 2021, Hollins University faculty and staff underwent an intensive six-week “Imagination Campaign” to reimagine the entire student experience in a more holistic way. The sessions kickstarted campus-wide changes like a scholarship program for local students, more accessible mental health services, and updates to athletic facilities. Hollins also reorganized cross-reporting between various departments in a way that embeds DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) and student success within these new initiatives.
California State University, Long Beach: 2030 Action Plan
CSU Long Beach published a 34-page strategic plan for becoming a student-ready university by the year 2030 that includes recommended actions, available infrastructure, opportunities, and challenges. The plan offers an overview of what needs to be done to accomplish three strategic goals: foster a community of belonging for all students, prioritize student health and well-being and connect learning to the future of work.
We hope these examples of student-ready colleges and universities inspire and embolden you to forge a new path for students at your school. Before you start, remember that even the most impassioned changemakers can’t do it alone. You’ll need a team of people alongside you to mobilize efforts across the entire campus. Here are six important questions to help you start the conversation:
- Are there any equity gaps in student success? What existing processes or policies have exacerbated these gaps?
- Are current student-centered initiatives impersonal and transactional for the student?
- What patterns – good and bad – affect how our institution functions?
- Across departments, are there any ongoing employee engagement or retention challenges?
- How easy is it for all current employees to contribute their ideas, time, and personal experiences to student development?
- How can we empower our service and support staff to work as educators alongside us?