Combating Initiative Fatigue: Unifying and Integrating Student Success...

Student Success

Combating Initiative Fatigue: Unifying and Integrating Student Success Initiatives

By Ana Borray and Nancy Millichap     May 13, 2017

Combating Initiative Fatigue: Unifying and Integrating Student Success Initiatives

This article is part of the collection: Crossing the Finish Line: Stories on Student Success and What Colleges Are Doing to Get There.

If you’ve ever worked in a college or university you’ve probably experienced this: someone announces that your institution will be rolling out the latest bright, shiny new tool or program to help more students succeed. Then, another initiative or project pops up, somewhere else on campus you hear, with its own technologies, branding and stakeholders. And a few months later it happens again—a new effort that this time is even changing your role.

In our work with institutions that have received grants to implement comprehensive programs for technology-enhanced advising reform (Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success, or iPASS), we see this a lot. And what’s worse, we’ve see how despite good intentions, many faculty and staff can quickly burnout from so many disparate change initiatives.

It’s an issue we call “initiative fatigue.” Everyone has an interest in improving the rates at which students gain degrees or credentials—but these interests, when not well coordinated, can lead to student confusion and staff disillusionment.

Moving forward on all projects successfully is a complex undertaking with the potential to dilute effort and sap staff morale, without providing intended benefits for the students and the institution. But instead of scaling back change efforts around student success—which are imperative today when completion rates remain alarmingly low, especially for students from disadvantaged groups—there are ways to get around and ultimately combat initiative fatigue.

Here are the essential steps we’ve seen our grantees applying:

1. Define student success: Institutional leaders must begin change initiatives by firstproviding a clear idea of what the college or university is striving for and what the end picture looks like.

2. Carve a path: How will the institution achieve the vision that has been established? This step calls on leadership to weave initiatives together strategically so that they are all part of the bigger, overarching vision that has been established.

3. Establish goals and measures: As part of determining whether you are on track to reach your vision or whether you need to change course or refine your efforts, initiative leaders will need to establish a clear, specific set of metrics and then collect data on them consistently. These metrics need to be tied to the different initiatives underway, making each one clearly contribute to the overarching vision.

4. Communicate and celebrate: Communication across all levels of the institution with regular messages that restate the vision, the path, and the outcomes you are achieving is essential. Periodic updates, which should be tailored to the specific audience (e.g. students, faculty or staff), should also celebrate successes your institution achieves along the way. Good communication should address both head and heart!

With funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, our organization, EDUCAUSE, awarded 26 colleges and universities iPASS grants of up to $225,000 in 2015. At several of those institutions, leaders have had notable success in following these steps, in part by developing their visions of how iPASS fits into the institutional landscape.

Northeast Wisconsin Technical College: Emphasizing Systems Thinking

At Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC), the iPASS work comprises the use of predictive analytics and risk targeting and interventions. It also includes an intake survey implemented this academic year.

John Grant, dean of student support services, says communication is the most important to making sure that ongoing initiatives aren’t falling off the radar even as new initiatives launch. Grant notes, “one thing we’re working on and getting better at is looking at things through a system lens.”

At NWTC, staff have set up a “Dream Core Team,” with members from IT, student services and human resources, to together develop and implement their vision, identify a path, as well as define goals and measurements across different initiatives. The members of the core team recognize the need to help synthesize all the information they are gathering and help everyone involved make sense of it. This requires ongoing professional development to ensure that each person is prepared for their expected roles and changing responsibilities.

The core team has also placed a heavy emphasis on visualizing how those efforts align to help keep faculty and staff on-board with initiative efforts. The graphic below is one example the core team has shared with other stakeholders on campus, portraying how different efforts fit together like a puzzle.

Training on the software is also important, Grant says, but educating faculty and staff on the new models for advising and student support that the technology makes effective is equally critical. To gain broad buy-in, he believes it is necessary to educate stakeholders about the overall design for student success as it is to provide training on the specific tasks in which they are involved.

University of Central Florida: Revolving around Student Success

There’s a lot going on at UCF: rolling out the EAB Student Success Collaborative, the Foundations of Excellence transfer initiative, and participation in the Gallup-Purdue index, to name a few. Like at NWTC, leaders at the University of Central Florida have made it a priority to link initiatives together and communicate to the community the ways in which these projects reinforce one another.

“All of our projects have the same goals and measures,” says Maribeth Ehasz, vice president of student development and enrollment services. When a project to reimagine the first-year experience launched this year, she made sure the measures and goals were the same for that as for projects already under way.

Visualizing the connection between university-wide initiatives was a priority for leaders at UCF as well. The graphic above is one example of what Ehasz and Elizabeth Dooley, vice provost for teaching and learning and dean of the college of undergraduate studies, have helped develop and refined to conceptualize the initiatives moving forward.

This year, Dooley and Ehaz have gone another step farther to sync up initiatives by consolidating some of the meetings for the various initiatives so that as new initiatives come up, everyone involved is able to look together at how those new initiatives will fit into what they are already doing.

Change doesn’t stop. So what happens when an institution achieves its goal and reaches its targets for an initiative? It will be time to begin the next one: to set the next vision, next path, new goals and measures—and to incorporate it into the ongoing circle of continuous institutional evolution and transformation.

Nancy Millichap (@NancyMillichap) is a program officer with EDUCAUSE and Ana Borray (@aborray) is the director of IPASS implementation services at EDUCAUSE.

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