JC Anderson Consulting

A role for marketers, communicators, and students in student success

I had the opportunity to attend two higher education conferences in the past two weeks: Achieving the Dream’s annual national convening, DREAM, and the Council for Support and Advancement of Education’s District II annual conference.

It was my third DREAM conference; it was my 32nd CASE District II conference (wow...that's a lot!). While each focused on a different slice of advancing and supporting higher education, they had a lot in common.

I came back with three declarations:

1. Gaylord hotels and resorts are mini cities where you must account for travel time from your room to the conference center (coincidently, these conferences were held in Gaylord Opryland, Nashville, and Gaylord National Harbor, Washington, D.C.).

2. There is a stronger role for advancement professionals (marketers, communicators, fundraisers) in student success.

3. We must put students at the table when we discuss student success.

In addition to attending sessions about how community colleges are more holistically integrating their student support systems, how four-year and two-year institutions in Maryland are working together to better smooth the way to completion, and how institutions are paying closer attention to equity so that all students have a chance to succeed, I spent time with seven amazing students.

These students were selected from community colleges that are part of the national Achieving the Dream Network, more than 220 institutions across the country. They served as DREAM Scholars, attending conference sessions and participating in a number of education-related activities at the convening and in the city of Nashville. At each plenary, two scholars read their “personal poems,” providing deep and often emotional insight into their backgrounds, struggles, journeys, and dreams. I started each day at DREAM with tears in my eyes and hope in my heart.

On the last day of DREAM, these students participated in the closing plenary, sharing thoughts about their experience at the convening, as well as providing advice for the attendees-more than 2,300 community college and university presidents, faculty, administrators, funders, and policy makers. What struck me was their keen insight into what community colleges should do to further improve the college experience for students, and in turn, improve student success.

Their answers to: “what would you do if you were a college president for a day” follow:

Promote more student engagement in the classroom: assign more homework so that students can get to know more about a subject, learn to love it, and pursue a career.

We say our students aren’t ready for college, but often it’s that colleges aren’t ready for students.

Diversify my college so that there are more people here like me…not just the color of my skin but my background. It mattered that the first person I met at my college looked like me.

Put students on college committees and discussion groups so that we hear their ideas, their struggles, and their needs.

Just as these thoughtful messages at DREAM remained with me after I left the conference, there were messages from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) conference in D.C. that have also remained with me.

In the Leadership Plenary, Dr. DeRionne Pollard, President, and David Sears, Senior Vice President for Advancement and Community Engagement at Montgomery College (MD) said “advancement leaders need to be tied to the mission of student success.” As I saw my tablemates and others nod in agreement, I thought to myself, “why am I hearing this for the first time today, in a hotel full of advancement professionals who have spent days together, talking about how to better support and advance their institutions?”

Just as our academic colleagues are facing changes in their roles, we, as advancement professionals, are facing our own challenges and changes in our roles of supporting and advancing our institutions. We should, indeed, be directly tied to the mission of student success.

Having advancement leaders tied to that mission puts us squarely in the center of conversations where we can contribute on a broader and also deeper level. In order to help our institutions make greater progress in all aspects of student success, we need to be part of all discussions, not just those about the next fundraising campaign, rebranding, or recruitment materials. For example, at the table with colleagues in student affairs and enrollment, we can discuss how to develop an internal communications strategy to help students register, find advisors and tutors, identify which courses are textbook-free, and how to access the food pantry, among a myriad other important and essential services to help them achieve their academic goals.

In my January blog, I proposed a “pivot” in the role of the advancement professional, to take a more central role in supporting academic innovation, which leads to improving student success. I am rolling that forward into a new proposal to discuss this pivot for advancement leaders at our professional development meetings conferences, as well as in our institutions.

Stay tuned…