Seattle’s notoriously wet and chilly "Junuary” is fading into the background, and the arrival of true summer means a return to hiking for my family. Steep hikes to Cascadia mountain peaks typically entail keeping your head up looking ahead instead of behind, scanning the trail for what is coming…
It’s often the same in our professional lives. We are constantly looking ahead – casting visions, setting goals, and creating plans. But it is just as important to pause and look back at how we got to the present moment, searching for lessons that we can carry forward into those goals and plans.
The colleges and universities participating in our Frontier Set initiative have done just that, reflecting on several years of work to advance institutional transformation and equitable student success. They are now producing rich case studies of their work (see below) that yield a number of insights, including three that stand out for me:
- Leadership has to extend beyond the C-suite. Sustaining big changes in policy and practice through presidential and other senior leadership transitions requires champions from across the campus – including and especially students.
- Bridging silos is critical. We sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that changes in organizational structure are necessary for change to occur. Experience is showing that positive change is possible if institutions are intentional about bridging silos across the campus, creating cross-functional teams that can address specific and time-bound issues.
- Stopping is just as important as starting. Higher education (like philanthropy) suffers from an additive problem – we are good at starting new things, less good at ending things once they have run their course. Transforming institutions are becoming more adept at asking the hard questions about what they can stop doing to make room for new student-centered initiatives.
Keep reading for more insights across a wide range of institutions. And I encourage you to set aside some time in the slower summer months to pause and look back as you look ahead to another year.
Director, Postsecondary Success
From the Foundation
Insights from the Frontier Set: Institutional Case Studies
The 29 colleges and universities and two state university systems participating in the Frontier Set have gathered lessons from their efforts to transform themselves to become more student-centered and are now sharing those insights with the field.
Aspen Institute: The Community College View
Over the past several years, the 12 Frontier Set community colleges have made significant gains in student success, including double-digit increases in graduation rates. In this brief, the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program outlines the strategies that the colleges deployed to achieve these results, including a stronger focus on data use, improved internal communications, and use of cross-functional teams to address specific student success issues. The report also includes case studies from Lorain County Community College, Davidson-Davie Community College, and William Rainey Harper College.
AASCU: Transformation at State Colleges and Universities
The American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) has supported six public four-year institutions in their transformation efforts and captured several key insights and cross-cutting themes through the work. These include specific changes in policy and practice such as redesigning gateway courses and degree auditing tools, as well as addressing cultural issues such as the need to develop silo-spanning skills for key staff and developing a “leading from the middle” mindset for frontline faculty and staff.
APLU: Advancing Change Amid Transition
The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) offers case studies from three urban-serving public universities: Georgia State University, Portland State University, and Florida International University. Each of these institutions has faced unique challenges affecting their efforts to boost student success, including institutional mergers, leadership transitions, and the implementation of a performance-based funding model. The case studies document how each institution used these challenges as opportunities to focus attention on student outcomes – and getting results.