Are 'strong personalities' in higher ed getting in the way of student success?
- A number of community college and four-year institution leaders are working to give students better data about potential employment options tied to their majors at the beginning of their academic careers in hopes that they can improve retention, persistence and employment outcomes.
- This is particularly important in the community college space where students often enroll because "they know they need to go to college in order to generate a pathway out of poverty, but they are very unclear about what that means," said Christina Hubbard, a director at the research firm EAB.
WalletHub this week released a report on the best and worst entry-level jobs in which several higher ed experts, including Macomb Community College director of career services, Robert Penkala, provided advice for students. Penkala suggested students take low-paying jobs in their fields as soon as possible over higher-paying jobs in unrelated fields to gain valuable work experience that will help them into competitive entry-level positions. However, for students looking for a pathway out of poverty, taking a lower-paying job may not be an option — and this is why giving students credible information about jobs outcomes on the front end makes sense, Hubbard said.
A new survey of 200 college presidents, provosts, CFOs, CTOs and CIOs from Ellucian found 58% of leaders value analytics on operational efficiency over those that could be used to boost academic outcomes. But the greatest hindrance to efficiency seems not to be a lack of information available, but a lack of willingness to share information across departments or colleges. Nearly half of the surveyed leaders cited this as a moderate or significant roadblock to implementing an institution-wide analytics program, and 44% said the fear of losing power and/or control drives that unwillingness.
Jammie Willbanks, dean of student advising and retention at Wiregrass Technical College's Valdosta, Moody and Cook campuses, said leaders must adopt a more student-first approach to propel the success of all stakeholders.
"A lot of strong personalities [drive] some of those positions that make those decisions, and it’s about putting your personal beliefs behind you and putting the student first," she said.
Wiregrass, for instance, generated an additional $79,000 in revenue by better leveraging analytics to drive advising and enrollment processes, including program change requests. But she said there is still more work to be done to connect the college's admissions, financial aid and advising departments to make the processes even smoother.
"We all have to take a step back ... and say what’s best for the student and what resources and tools and processes do we have to help the student," she said, adding that much of the legwork for many of the administrative processes should be shouldered by staff, not students.
Hubbard believes that, given the high student-adviser ratios that often exist in community colleges, in particular, students' time is best applied toward legwork that gives them a self-assessment of their goals and interests so that advisers can facilitate "a more fruitful discussion" with them and chart clearer pathways to achieving their goals.
Follow Autumn A. Arnett on Twitter