Dr. Art R. Malloy is the vice president for student affairs at the University of North Dakota. He previously served as the interim vice chancellor for student affairs and dean of students at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. With nearly 30 years of higher education experience, Dr. Malloy is a student affairs and student success practitioner focused on building programs that promote leadership development and student success. He has held leadership positions at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta, Georgia, where he served as dean of student success, and at Winston-Salem State University, where he served as associate vice chancellor for student affairs and dean of students. He has also held leadership roles at Winston-Salem State University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Wittenberg University, Ohio State University, and North Carolina State University.
Colleges and university administrators spend billions of dollars to attract the best and brightest students. They leave no stone unturned. But what happens to these students after they enroll? The commitment in higher education to attract and enroll students is unquestionable, but student persistence is often where problems arise. Enrolling is not educating; nor does it guarantee that students will be retained. Contemporary views of higher education equate the cost of funding the college or university experience to an investment in a student’s future with hopes of a strong return on investment. Numerous reports by leading higher education consultants indicate parents and students have high expectations related to their investment in higher education and expect the end result to be a student educated sufficiently to be able to seamlessly enter the world of work immediately after graduation.
There are four questions that parents and students need to be prepared to ask prior to enrolling at any institution of higher education to ensure students will have access to a transformational educational experience. Parents should ask these questions to administrators at every college or university being considered and pay close attention to the answers.
- Does the institution have a discernable plan for student success?
- Are their adequate resources dedicated to the out-of-class student experience?
- Is there a plan for experiential learning that provides preparation for the world of work?
- Is the alumni base actively engaged in the lives of current students?
After spending billions to recruit students, create first-year programs and mentoring opportunities, and implement an array of high-impact practices, higher education administrators continue to fail students. Too many services, activities, and programs are offered without meaningful collaboration across the university. This results in duplication of effort and confusion for students about what is important. As a result, students are often engaged in disjointed and purely transactional experiences that may or may not serve their needs. What is needed is a collaborative institutional approach that defines and creates an outstanding student experience inside and outside of the classroom that offers the student a pathway to student success from orientation to graduation.
Transactional experiences may work for students who arrive on campus with sufficient social capital to navigate the college experience. Others may need a guided process that provides a structured approach to navigating the complexities associated with the college experience, and how it might be ordered or sequenced to maximize student success. Such a process must be assessed with instrumentation constructed by all key stakeholders. If student success is the goal, higher education administrators must start with that goal in mind. Hoping that students will navigate the college experience by taking advantage of the opportunities offered is simply not a strategy. Such hoping will only serve to increase the likelihood that students will find themselves well off-course in regard to student success; change majors multiple times or stop out or drop out due to lack of individual attention to their needs. Guided pathways to student success in which faculty and administrators collaborate to create a plan for success tailored to the needs of each student is essential. Parents and students expect colleges and universities to have a plan in place to help students succeed and allow them to seamlessly exit upon graduation and gain employment in their chosen fields of study.
A Discernable Plan for student success
Transformative experiences begins with a commitment to the students in year one to connect them with resources related to mentoring, tutoring, comprehension of their financial obligations to the university, and an introduction to a plan that puts them on a path to academic discovery, experiential learning that facilitates work or research experience and opportunities to gain leadership experience, engage in discourse that allows for greater cultural understanding and respect, and participate in service-related opportunities. All these endeavors must be done in the sequence deemed appropriate by those who develop the student experience at each higher education institution.
Resources dedicated to the out-of-class experience
There are few, if any worries about the in-class experience given that so many colleges and universities have world-class faculty. Students and parents expect there to be adequate resources to facilitate the out-of-class student experience. They should explore and determine if there are resources for study abroad trips and funds earmarked for undergraduate research, internships and apprenticeships, and funding for cultural events and speakers’ series that expose students to the best and brightest. Every administrator must know about these resources, have a means to access them, and be willing to share them with students as they encourage them to fully utilize them.
Colleges and universities, like the world’s top corporations, must be concerned with the student experience and the impression that is left after accessing the services, programs, and opportunities provided. Each program, activity, and service must be associated with a goal designed to promote learning outcomes shared throughout the higher education institution. Shared learning outcomes related to the student experience make it easier to unify messaging. It will make it easier for academic advisers, financial advisers, and career advisers to partner with faculty to create a plan for student success tailored to the needs of each individual student.
Preparation for professional careers
Some academic programs require students to participate in activities and programs that prepare them for professional careers. While internships, clinical rotations, undergraduate research, volunteering, and on and off-campus jobs provide much-needed opportunities for students to gain work experience, academic partnerships that allow the student to collaborate within the classroom setting to solve real-world problems also contribute to career preparation.
Excellence in the classroom without any experience in a student’s chosen major can prove to be disastrous when they enter the job market. Since colleges and universities are aware of this, it is incumbent upon them to create and build within any plan for student success, appropriate opportunities for students to gain experience on campus, in local communities, or through study away or study abroad programs. If the end goal is for students to be employed, career preparation must be a priority throughout the academic life of all students and not just some of them.
Active and engaged alumni
Some colleges and universities utilize alumni in new student orientation for first-year students and in graduate orientation to help students develop or expand their professional networks. Additionally, for new graduate or undergraduate students, it can be highly inspirational to see a recent graduate who is employed and giving back to their alma mater. It is essential for colleges and universities to provide a platform for alumni to stand in front of new students and proclaim that their student experience contributed to their student success and can do the same for them. It is also important for students to see what it means to be an active member of the alumni. It is equally important for students to hear that alumni will be a resource for them as a mentor, coach, or simply another person who encourages and inspires them to complete their degree and join them in the workforce.
Each student must be made aware of the tailored experience designed to promote pathways to student success. Annual assessment of institutional efforts to create and implement a common student experience will be essential for the purposes of sharing findings with students, faculty, staff, and alumni to continuously improve the experience. Such an endeavor will provide a transformational experience for all students, provide an educated workforce, and help to create a strengthened and informed alumni base.