The Aspen Prize: Creating a Faculty Culture of Student Success

Posted on February 6, 2013. Filed under: Community Colleges, Completion Agenda, Higher Education |

The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program committee members know a thing or two about recognizing community colleges that support student success. In 2011, the Aspen committee awarded its first prize for Community College Excellence to Valencia College (Orlando, FL). Valencia was cited for its unusually high completion and job placement rates and because Valencia provides an outstanding example of how deep attention to teaching excellence, review of evidence, and ongoing experimentation can drive consistently improving rates of student success.

Now the Aspen team is providing a new resource for faculty and administrators to bring the Valencia success model to our campuses. Published today, Creating a Faculty Culture of Student Success, explains how Valencia established some of their unique practices. The guide also provides several examples of how Valencia and other community colleges (West Kentucky Community and Technical College and Patrick Henry Community College (VA)), followed different paths to creating a deep faculty culture of continuous reform driven by the goal of increasing student success.

The guide describes the change process at Valencia in four steps:

Step One: Establish a Broad Demand for Change

Step Two: Build the Team

Step Three: Determine and Execute a Plan for Institutionalization

Step Four: Evaluate, Reflect, and Continuously Improve

The guide also provides some strategies for moving past “sticking points” – these all-too-familiar roadblocks (“The problem is the students,” “We can’t improve until we have more money and more people,” “We already have programs to address these problems,” “We agree on the need to change, but we can’t agree on what to do,” “The team is excluding particular constituencies,” “People are interested but do not think they will have time to participate,” “We just don’t have the resources to keep this going,” “Our program was developed and championed by one person, who is retiring. How can we keep this effort going?”)

This four-step plan is not rocket science – but the guide provides some great examples that give food for thought about improvements that other community college can replicate.

One of my big take-aways relates to Valencia’s emphasis on faculty development (in which they heavily invest). They have seen that for faculty and staff to examine data and act by implementing alternative approaches, they need support and professional development. Professional development clearly tied to the specific change being pursued can significantly increase chances that faculty will adopt change at scale.

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