Beyond “The Ivory Tower”: Success Stories for Higher Ed

by Daniel Fusch (Academic Impressions)

Last night I saw The Ivory Tower with my colleagues. I was interested to see a wide-ranging take on the higher-ed industry, but was struck by the movie's focus on extreme examples -- and by the fact that it shared few success stories. In the years ahead, higher-ed leaders will face some bold decisions, but that can be an opportunity as easily as it can be a threat.

We are an industry of learning. When we network at seminars and workshops and learn from the successes of our peers, when we try and test new initiatives with care, when we listen to the needs of our students, donors, and other stakeholders and respond vigorously, we have it in our power to change things ... without waiting on changes in policy or state/federal funding.

The thing I love most about working at Academic Impressions is that every day, I get to interact with and learn from some of the leading innovators in academia, as well as practitioners who are on the ground making a real impact at their institutions. I hear stories of effective one-stop shop student centers, academic coaching programs, learning games that engage students, successful giving challenges, flipped classrooms, creative learning spaces, new approaches to packaging financial aid...

I hear success stories, and those are the stories I want to write about. Since 2009, I have led Higher Ed Impact, Academic Impressions' free publication, in which my colleagues and I get to bring you the new research findings that can inform your work and the practical strategies to help you succeed. That's exciting.

So today, I want to go beyond the theme of The Ivory Tower and share some success stories with you. And I want to share examples of success from every division within an institution of higher learning. Innovation is happening in the alumni relations office and it is happening at the registrar. It's happening...

IN ACADEMIC AFFAIRS...

  • Virginia Tech is helping students complete their degrees faster and at lower cost by successfully opening a variety of special sessions -- not just summer sessions but also Maymester and inter-term classes. Ken Smith, Virginia Tech's vice provost for resource management and institutional effectiveness, discusses the transition here.

IN STUDENT SERVICES...

  • C. Andrew Griffin (Northern Arizona University) and Diane Schmitz (Seattle University) are closing the retention gap for transfer, adult, and veteran students -- at lower cost -- by consolidating services supporting these populations and supplementing that support with peer mentoring. Read more here

IN ADVANCEMENT...

  • Skylar Beaver, Washington & Lee University's director of annual giving, participated in an Academic impressions webcast on launching a day of giving challenge -- and then launched one of her own, a very successful 24 hour challenge that brought in 4,700 donors and $1.2 million raised, not including matching gifts.

IN ENROLLMENT MANAGEMENT...

IN STUDENT HOUSING...

  • Abeer Mustafa, Winston Salem State University's director of housing and residence life, is using pro formas to forecast the financial health of student housing at Winston Salem. Armed with this information, Mustafa has been actively developing thematic housing, living learning communities, and a faculty-in-residence program, along with needed facilities improvements and new construction. She talks about her efforts in this podcast.

That is truly just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. At our conferences, in interviews and in-depth conversations, in rigorous surveys and quick, informal polls, for years I have been hearing examples of higher-ed professionals and forward thinkers making a real impact.

All around us, people -- faculty, advisors, admissions counselors, fundraisers, business officers, capital planners -- are innovating and working passionately to improve their institutions. And that's a story worth a movie.

We might not call it The Ivory Tower. We'd be more likely to call it In the Trenches.

WHERE ARE YOU INNOVATING?

Do you have a story of successful innovation you'd like to share? Contact me at daniel@academicimpressions.com