Diversity and inclusion work is ongoing, and it can be difficult and eye-opening. It takes leadership, patience, discipline, engagement, and self-awareness from all constituents: students, staff, faculty, the administration, and the board of trustees. But the central champion for diversity and access on any campus must be the president. Even an excellent chief diversity officer cannot drive institutional culture without the president’s passion, time, and focus. If there is not direct leadership and responsibility for fostering diversity and inclusion, there will not be sustained efforts and clear results. The leadership dimension regarding diversity translates into a deep, on-ground commitment.
Universities should serve as places where diverse thought can be explored, analyzed, and understood in terms of its origin and impact. Within this exploration rests a profound commitment to open, often difficult dialogue about deep-seated issues that have plagued American society for decades, if not centuries. Too often, given the inherent prejudices we fight individually and collectively every day, that dialogue is not explicated in a truly educative way that fosters understanding from a place of appreciation and awareness. A principle of context before content offers a strong position from which to launch bias and inclusivity programming. Conversations must begin with an understanding of context based on individual diverse journeys, the challenges they have faced, the history of their culture and its dynamics, and how identity shapes experience. After that is established consistently and intentionally, then issues, experiences, and perspectives can be shared, and over time, culture can shift.
Blog by Tim Fuller, Credo Senior Vice President/Owner
I recently heard a president reflect on his conversations with 70 presidential colleagues during the round of spring conferences. He cited a common theme of concern about enrollment: the meaning behind the numbers has changed so much they have trouble anticipating their fall results. This can be a confusing time with interweaving factors like prior-prior year, a strong buyer’s market, tuition resets, and increased competition impacting both college strategy and family decisions.
With important but disparate diversity resources spread across our campuses—from human resources to student affairs to the enrollment office to academic affairs—true culture change can only be achieved with the adoption of a framework that contextualizes, contains, and guides diversity and inclusion work at a strategic, cross-functional level. Damon A. Williams writes, “If we can give this loosely connected organizational structure a stronger conceptual tethering, we see capacities despite different administrative locations have the potential to link together in new and powerful ways, particularly at those institutions that desire to create a more rigorous, disciplined, and cohesive campus diversity agenda.”
The powerful alchemy of issues of access combined with the still-profound realities around diversity and inclusion in our country today presents higher education with one of the most compelling challenges in the history of its existence: how can we reimagine our institutions as models of opportunity and inclusion, committing deeply to the notion that a transformative education should be open, available, welcoming, and supported for all?
For decades, we have relied on high-stakes standardized tests that are racially, culturally, and socioeconomically biased. We structure our admissions and financial aid largely around these test scores and school-district rankings. As a result, we reinforce a culture of elitism across higher education, excluding vast populations of students for whom education is the single most critical element in their empowerment and socioeconomic mobility.
Curriculum development must use speed-to-market as a key success measure. The new university cannot spend two years thinking about a program and another year developing it for delivery. In the new university, the addition of new programs is an administrative, business-oriented decision. Market analysis of emerging careers and needs must become an ongoing focus, either through investment in a highly-developed office of institutional research or by a strong relationship with an external research partner. This research will be used strategically and quickly to determine which programs should be introduced based on market demand before bringing together a structured group of faculty members to engage in their development and launch.
Almost thirty million working adults in the United States aspire to complete a college degree they began years ago, and more than forty million others could enhance their career prospects, but have never attended a higher-education institution.
In order for leadership to most appropriately weigh the funding of strategic initiatives and all other budget inputs, the institutional budget should be built each year on a zero-based budget philosophy, with focus on a “repeatable process … to rigorously review every dollar in the annual budget, manage financial performance on a monthly basis, and build a culture of cost management among all employees.”
Student learning is our enterprise; it’s why our institutions exist. The heart of our business is the development and execution of learning that results in transformed students who are prepared for and confident about their contribution to society and their ability to secure a meaningful life. With that student transformation at the center of institutional investment, cost across the academic unit must be closely examined, and university leaders must be ready to evaluate, limit, or eliminate any academic program if the numbers, trends, and projections are not satisfactory for the expense to the institution. But when we approach that enterprise with efficiency as the only measure, we risk the demise of quality. Instead, our colleague Dr. Joretta Nelson strongly recommends that any discussion about costs are driven by:
Anotherimportant aspect of sense of place on the college and university campus is how it is connected to other places (Cronon, 1992; Cresswell, 2004), and in particular to the community in which it resides. “Do the patterns of open space and building that are conventionally associated with ‘campus’ have a place within neighborhoods that the institution influences? Conversely, should the apparatus of the city [or community] have something to say about how campus spaces are formed?” (Lyndon, 2005, p.3). Institutions engage in place building for purposes of situating themselves as one entity within a larger environment. Thomas (2004) and Thomas and Cross (2007) conceptualized four such possibilities.