Lane’s Student Success Leadership Team: A Hybrid Organizational Mechanism for Implementing Ambitious Strategic Directions
September 2012, Volume 25, Number 9
By Sonya Christian
Lane Community College (Lane) is moving its student success agenda forward while maintaining its commitment to learning and to quality. To accomplish this ambitious aim, the college has developed a hybrid institutional body, the Student Success Leadership Team, or SSLT. Extending the learning college paradigm to its own organizational structure, Lane’s SSLT operates like an air traffic control center, tracking the development of related initiatives, grants, and projects whose purpose is to move the dial on student achievement. Part research collective, part leadership team, part communications hub, and part collaborative change agent, SSLT has supported a widespread cultural shift at the college with student success at the center.
Through this hybrid team, Lane demonstrates the continuing relevance of the learning paradigm for supporting student success. Several features of SSLT make it unique at the college. First, its community-of-practice model emerged from a twelve hour student success study series in 2010-2011. This scholarly engagement with the complexities of student learning and success continues to be a major feature of SSLT. Second, the team is comprised of employees from all employee groups, with an expectation that student success is everyone’s responsibility. Senior administrators sit at the same table as financial aid advisors and math and counseling faculty; having key players in the student success puzzle in the same room at the same time is critical for this team’s efficacy. Third, SSLT’s role as a communications hub provides for orderly, collaborative convergence of multiple projects and widespread dissemination of information to college communities. Finally, SSLT has served as an incomparable professional and organizational development mechanism. With a common purpose of improving student learning and success, the college community has increased its capacity to understand, grapple with, and solve some of the problems of success in an open-access environment. Along the way, it has improved morale and helped break down silos.
Scholarly Beginnings: A 12 Hour Study Series
The roots of SSLT lie in a twelve hour student success immersion study series, launched in fall of 2010, to answer the question: How do we transform community college students’ hope into an expectation of success? More than 30 college members attended the series, representing all academic and student affairs divisions, and groups such as Career Pathways, Degree Requirements, Disability Resources, and Pre-Collegiate Support. The study group’s charge was to wrestle with real issues and come to a common understanding of how the different pieces of work at the college are connected to student success.
The study group began by grappling with institutional data to gain a high-level snapshot of student learning and success at that time. They studied course and program-level completion and success data, and compared it regionally and nationally; they looked at demographic information to see the impact that low-income and first-generation college status have on student completion rates; they looked at successful interventions and studied how Lane is mainstreaming similar interventions through its Title III grant; and they developed a richer understanding of what quality progression and completion means at Lane and how open access can be reconciled with quality and completion in a social justice framework.
The study series also engaged with national research on the subject. Clifford Adelman facilitated an all-day conference in January 2011, at which he shared his research on student progression from high school to college and university, The Toolbox Revisited and Moving into Town—and Moving On. He also shared his work with the Degree Qualifications Profile, a “framework for defining the learning and quality that college degrees should signify.” Faculty and staff actively engaged with Adelman’s work, mapping Lane’s own populations onto his schema of “homeowners, tenants, and visitors” and responding to his work in a panel discussion. This engagement provided the basis for later work on core abilities revision, math program redesign, and the college’s commitment to the Achieving the Dream data framework.
Community of Learning and Practice Model
The study series provided the opportunity for a developing a community of learning and practice, in which college employees with different responsibilities for student learning and success could come together, see how their work aligned, and contextualize their own contributions. Building on the momentum from the study series, SSLT was formed in fall 2011; the original 30 members of the study group were joined by 20 more college members engaged in related work.
The design for SSLT grew organically from the learning goals of the first study series. For example, the study series’ focus on using large data sets and evidence to understand the student success picture has led to multiple improvements in research and information systems across campus. SSLT has informed or influenced multiple campus research projects. Examples include development of core theme indicators of achievement for accreditation purposes, development and analysis of a longitudinal data set for Achieving the Dream, development of SIS tools to facilitate batch processing of audits, and development of a student success data framework. As all members have become more familiar with the data on student success, they have been able to apply what they know in their own institutional context and bring questions to the group as they arise.
Broad Involvement for an Ambitious Goal: Putting People in the Same Room
Another distinctive feature of SSLT is its broad and collaborative participation toward a common goal. At a time of increasing pressure to perform and decreasing state funding, SSLT has built a common vocabulary and vision. The phrase “quality progression and completion” is now shared shorthand for a host of complex institutional functions: meeting our students where they are, understanding what they need to succeed, offering them a rich and empowering curricular and cocurricular experience, and fostering their ultimate goal achievement. The convergence of all of these functions has taken a cultural shift, and SSLT has been fundamental in this shift.
Staffed by members of departments, task forces, and teams, and yet distinct from each of these, SSLT involves personnel whose responsibilities lie at key junctures in students’ journey from admission to goal completion. SSLT influences research and development, governance, and operations, and drives innovative curricular and programmatic changes.
The presence and engagement of senior administrators has signaled the importance of this group and has made attendance a priority for members. More important has been the atmosphere of mutual respect among participants, lending this community its texture and giving it an esprit de corps and common purpose. Knowledgeable staff and faculty from all levels of the organization have provided sustained engagement in the work of increasing student learning and success.
SSLT is a communications hub through which an often dizzying array of data and projects can be effectively discussed, synthesized, and shared. Meetings provide the occasion to convey progress and obstacles, and fine-tune understandings. As SSLT’s common language has developed, it has allowed members to speak with a single voice, providing a unified message for multiple audiences and avoiding confusion. Through this communication, these audiences are developing a common frame of reference for how their decisions affect student success. SSLT has, thus, become a two-way communications mechanism. First, members bring information from their own projects to the team, which can then synthesize that work into its plans, providing for efficiencies and common evolving understandings. Second, the team communicates with college groups about its work, presenting to the Board of Education and various councils.
SSLT has also developed a website as a communications tool with a strategy map that provides a visual framework for aligning initiatives in support of our college’s mission. Strategy mapping provides useful information for establishing priorities, allocating resources, and identifying gaps in mission fulfillment. The website also features student success stories so that the college community can witness the results of its efforts. Other links to major projects and photographs and videos of events have put a face to SSLT for those who are unable to attend sessions.
Lane continues to support traditional avenues for faculty and staff to maintain currency in their fields, but SSLT has become an additional conduit for faculty and staff development that intentionally engages with student learning and success. For example, its members have presented at events for national groups such as AAC&U and NACADA, and have reported back to the group. Many have also participated in teaching workshops that focus on active and collaborative pedagogies that improve student learning outcomes. Furthermore, in the coming year, multiple on-campus conferences and workshops will focus on assessment, core abilities and general education, high-impact practices, and diversity, as well as major initiatives such as the Degree Qualifications Profile and Achieving the Dream.
A Key Innovation in Organizational Development
As communications hub and means for dissemination of research and innovation, the hybrid structure of SSLT has been very effective. In addition, a tone of respect and common purpose has developed among members who have come to know the value of each other’s work in a deeper way. SSLT has become what Parker Palmer called a “subject centered” educational space, where members’ contributions can be recognized, where collective conversations help solve problems, and where redesign efforts lead to new interventions.
Thus, while guiding the work of student success across the college, the hybrid model of SSLT has simultaneously provided an organic organizational development mechanism that has led to better understanding of the value that all staff bring to Lane. When innovative staff are motivated to share their expertise or ideas with senior administrators sitting at the same table, a new tone is set for college work which translates into increased commitment to the larger mission of transforming lives through learning. This subject-centered practice has worked laterally as well as hierarchically. With the needs of students as the ultimate guiding framework for the SSLT community of learning and practice, the silo mentality that can plague institutions is often set aside and even positively disrupted, as members see how those silos impede rather than support student learning and success.
SSLT Plan for 2012-2013
How to avoid inevitable success fatigue with so many initiatives? The first year brought a study series for immersion into the problems and obstacles facing Lane students, investigation of best practices, recognition of ongoing pursuits, and engagement with new solutions. In the second year, the leadership team created a great degree of momentum, with virtually every group on campus engaging in some kind of initiative or program intended to move the dial on quality progression and completion. This coming year will be a period of strengthening and deepening our understanding, and implementing some of the innovations and plans from 2011-2012. The Math Department, for example, is implementing a redesign of its developmental math sequence, and the Counseling Department is undertaking mandatory student orientation and advising. In addition, the Foundations of Excellence team has created an implementation plan for improving students’ first year experience, and Enrollment Services is implementing a Degree Audit Automation module. Major initiatives such as Achieving the Dream, AAC&U’s Roadmaps, the Title III Engaging Students Program, and the Degree Qualifications Profile will continue on their own calendars, and SSLT will track their progress and communicate their findings to the college community.
The work of SSLT will evolve as new evidence leads the college to new ways of supporting quality progression and completion. As a community of learning and practice that has grown up around the challenge of student success, SSLT has created an environment of collaborative engagement with a common purpose in an atmosphere of mutual respect and common understanding. The learning paradigm that supported its early development will continue to guide its evolution as a hybrid institutional mechanism that supports achievement of an ambitious vision:to transform students’ lives through learning.
Sonya Christian is Executive Vice President and Chief Academic Officer at Lane Community College in Oregon.
Opinions expressed in Leadership Abstracts are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.