By Lorenzo L. Esters, Vice President, Philanthropy, USA Funds
Higher education is facing more scrutiny than at any other point in recent history, with federal and state legislators, parents and students demanding more accountability and transparency.
This increased attention on higher education has led key stakeholders — students and alumni — to question the value of their degrees.
To help stakeholders understand the value of college, and to arm postsecondary institution leaders with the data they need to assess that value, USA Funds® is supporting efforts by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) to infuse college value into two leadership development programs.
USA Funds is providing $278,297 toward the effort, which targets the Millennium Leadership Initiative and the Emerging Leaders Program, AASCU offerings that each serve 150-180 college administrators annually.
To gain insight about the Higher Education Leadership for Student Success and College Value project, I asked AASCU’s Mary Evans Sias, director, Millennium Leadership Initiative, and assistant to the president, to address questions about higher education leadership, college value, and how this work will help institutions and the students they serve.
Q: Given the changing landscape of higher education, what are the most pressing competencies for future higher education leaders to lead successfully?
AASCU understands that higher education today is changing more rapidly than ever before. It is imperative for public colleges and universities, and their leaders, to be more innovative and focused with respect to building institutional capacity, improving completion and graduation rates, and improving student success and college value.
In 2015 AASCU conducted a study that identified 13 effective practices/competencies required for developing current and future higher education leaders. Those characteristics range from understanding the academic enterprise, to being entrepreneurial, to being resilient.
Given the rapidly changing demographic profiles of our public higher education institutions, the changing financial issues, and the complexity of governance issues, I’d also include the following in the characteristics of a successful leader:
- Ability to work with people from diverse backgrounds.
- Skilled in working with boards.
- Having a clear vision — and the ability to communicate that vision and entreat others to be a part of it.
- Understanding of financial management and how to raise funds to support the institution.
- Ability to develop strong leadership teams.
- Understanding how to listen.
Q: Why is AASCU including a focus on college value in the Millennium Leadership Initiative? Why is college value important to current and future college leaders?
The 21st century college or university president must be a bold leader if the higher education environment is going to shift to a more student-oriented focus. It is essential that leaders know how to develop strategies and programs to improve student success. They must understand college value and why it is so important in addressing the reputational issues regarding the value of higher education.
A 2015 study of university reputation management found that there is incongruity between academics and the public about the role of universities. Only four in 10 public citizens see the university’s traditional role as critical to society — which means that six in 10 outside of the academy say that higher education is on the wrong track and that the role of the university must change to demonstrate real-world impact.
MLI is revising its curriculum to create a unifying framework that will concentrate on outcomes and competencies that lead to presidential success, including student success and college value. Providing focused professional development opportunities to educate and develop future college and university presidents is logical. To have that training focused on student success and college value is essential.
Q: How will you include a focus on college value in your curriculum for the MLI and ELP programs? How will you track participants’ success and understanding of college value over time?
We’ve already begun to provide college value information to MLI and ELP participants, with Mark Schneider of American Institutes for Research this year conducting presentations on the meaning and importance of college value, and how to measure it.
MLI participants are working in groups to examine leadership practices, institutional policies, and data collected from their own campuses that promote student success and college value. They will develop reports that will help inform a white paper about data that institutions are measuring to enhance student success and college value.
After participating in the college value project, MLI participants are expected to demonstrate specific leadership competencies based on student success and college value.
Q: What do you anticipate will be the ultimate outcome of your focus on training higher education leaders about college value?
The intent of MLI’s focus on college value is to help participants understand the importance of college value in today’s higher education arena. Participants will learn how to collect data on college value and how to effectively influence policies, programs and practices that will make a difference in improving the reputation of higher education institutions with the public, improve student success, and increase engagement with employers.
A fall 2012 article in the AASCU magazine Public Purpose points out that university presidents are uniquely positioned to drive bold, campuswide innovations because of the power vested in their office. The article further notes that, in an era when college affordability and degree completion are of paramount importance, the president’s role as a voice for students has never been more critical. That voice of the president must ask:
- Are we educating students who like their experience at our institution?
- Are we giving employers well-prepared students?
- Are students engaged in their communities?
- Are students earning a good salary?
- Are graduates employed in an area/field for which they have been trained?
AASCU will help dramatically increase future presidents’ knowledge about college value and student success. That knowledge will help improve the reputation and perceived value of higher education and improve student outcomes in all areas.