A Conversation with Jeff Selingo, Editor-at-Large, The Chronicle of Higher Education

Scaling Student Success

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In the last eight to 10 years, there was some controversy around the idea of helping more students complete. Now, it’s becoming more generally accepted that colleges and universities have to create pathways to help students finish. But in a conversation with Jeff Selingo, Editor-at-Large for The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Civitas Learning Co-Founder and Chief Learning Officer, Mark Milliron, we heard that student success is not just about getting students to and through graduation, but also making sure they have fulfilling lives after college. Below are brief highlights of theirs discussion about how higher education can ensure lifelong learning and long-term success for our students.
Giving Students a Sense of Purpose
Individuals are reflecting on their higher education journey, and data from Gallup and Strada are showing that there is some regret — one in 4 students would have changed their major. They didn’t change it though, because they didn’t understand the implications — or they weren’t confident that they would still get to the finish line if they changed course. Oftentimes, there was a lack of pre-college counseling while students were in high school. The majority (55%) of U.S students sought advice about what to study in college from their informal social network. This has huge implications, particularly for first-time and first-generation students. Institutions have an opportunity to help underprepared students by giving them a better sense of belonging and enabling them with a better sense of purpose.
Helping Students Communicate Skills
To write his book, There is Life After College — Jeff spent a lot of time with companies, from Silicon Valley startups to the stalwarts of recruiting like Enterprise Rent-A-Car.  These employers want to know if students have the soft skills they need to succeed. But students today — both 18-22 year-olds and nontraditional students — have a hard time communicating the skill sets they have. This is problematic, according to a recent study by Burning Glass, because recent graduates who are underemployed for their first job tend to stay underemployed for the next five years of their career. Knowing how much a student’s first job matters means we need to help them transfer their learning beyond the classroom and develop the ability to share and show what they know.
The Role of Leadership
In order to enable lifelong learning for students, there is a need to move from student success innovations to larger institutional transformations. This systemic work requires strong leadership and collaboration. When learning more about innovative campus practices, Jeff reported that he consistently saw work spearheaded by a strong champion, but often without the full support of leadership. Prioritizing lifelong learning requires institutional leadership that is committed to sticking with it and not rushing the harvest. This is where testing, iterating, and even failing is important. Leaders that are willing to learn from those experiences and incorporate those learnings into ongoing institutional transformation are the right kind of leaders for this work. In the end though, it is not just leadership, but collaboration in higher education that is important. Historically, collaboration has taken place around geography, mission, control (e.g. systems) or even around athletics (e.g. Big 10). Today though, we see institutions coming together because they face a common challenge. This transcends institution type; it doesn’t matter if it’s a university, community college or for-profit institution.

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