One of the biggest issues in online education is attrition. “Student retention is a noteworthy issue for higher education institutions and is closely tied to accountability,” write Melanie Shaw of Northcentral University, Scott Burrus of University of Phoenix, and Karen Ferguson of Colorado State University-Global Campus. In an article in the fall 2016 issue of the Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, the trio details research they conducted to determine predictors for online higher education student attrition.
May we be candid for a moment? When academic administrators are alone—no faculty members or representatives of the press in sight—one of the things we complain about most bitterly is accreditation. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about regional accreditation of all our programs or specialized accreditation of individual programs, we find it a nuisance at best and a major waste of time and effort at worst. It’s not that we don’t see advantages accruing from accreditation. We do. But we find that those returns seem to be ever diminishing and certainly not worth the cost involved in the process.
Even worse, accreditation sometimes actually gets in the way of our efforts to be innovative and responsive to the needs of a new generation of students. Legislatures, governing boards, and students all want us to offer accelerated paths to an academic degree, but accrediting agencies are still mired in outdated notions such as seat time and contact hours, even as they give lip service to the importance of outcomes-based assessment and evaluation. So, if you accept a few too many AP or IB credits—or, heaven forfend, try to launch an accelerated bachelor’s/master’s degree program—you’re likely to run into a brick wall of reasons why your creative solution (which everyone seems to like except the accreditors) “dilutes the integrity of the academic degree,” simply because a graduate won’t have been physically present in a classroom as long as he or she might have been 20 or 50 years ago.
Over the past two decades, the responsibilities of academic department chairs have grown in both number and complexity. The newer work for chairs has not replaced traditional duties but rather has been layered on top of them. Many of the emerging chair responsibilities are related to calls for accountability, expectations for improvement, and efforts to reform higher education. Chairs in particular have been impacted by these changes because they are the gatekeepers to disciplinary cultures and the faculty, the working units that manufacture the products of higher education. It is widely recognized that little will change without the participation and support of the faculty, and chairs are the critical people who can bring them to the table. In order to lead change of the necessary magnitude, chairs will have to become active not only with their departments and their faculty and staff, but also at the campus level and beyond where many of the ideas and models for change and improvement originate.
My professional goals have always included teaching but never administration. I tended to be a bit judgmental and suspicious of administration. However, after five years in an elementary classroom and 19 years in a university classroom, circumstances led me to take the plunge into higher education administration. Having served as a faculty member at the University of Central Arkansas for some 21 years and being an alumna there, ties of loyalty and service ran deep. It was my duty to take on this new adventure and ensure that I was doing my part to serve our faculty, promote idealistic goals of my university, and make sure that the future of higher education was in good hands. I felt that I could take all that I had learned from a faculty viewpoint and implement the best leadership strategies to be the kind of administrator that all faculty would love!
Faculty developers across the nation are working on developing methods to evaluate their services. In 2010, the 35th Annual Professional Organizational and Development Network Conference identified assessing the impact of faculty development as a key priority. It was this growing demand that spawned my interest in conducting a 2007 statewide and a 2010 nationwide investigation of faculty development evaluation practices in the U.S. This article will describe how to develop a customized evaluation plan based on your program’s structure, purpose, and desired results, based on contemporary practices discovered through this research.
In most academic departments, chairs are elected—or at least recommended to the dean—through a vote of the faculty. At other institutions, the chair rotates among the entire full-time or tenured faculty, while at still others the upper administration appoints the chair either from among current members of the department or as the result of a national search. In cases where deans, provosts, or presidents are in a position to choose the chair of a department, what principles should guide them?
For many years, those in higher education have been hearing about the aging of our faculty members and the new hiring that should take place, if resources allow, to replace those who leave. The mass exodus predicted has been blunted to some degree by the end of age-related mandatory retirement and health care issues for faculty whose spouses and children require health insurance coverage. Years of poor salary increments and low investment yields, which have resulted in slow growth in retirement accounts, have made it difficult, from an economic perspective, for some faculty to retire on time. Although all of this together has reduced the bolus of retirements predicted, there are vacancies occurring that need to be filled.
Much focus is currently turned on the metrics that measure the effectiveness of higher education. Selectiveness of admissions is certainly one such metric, but universities are also being judged on employability. However, it is not just the first job that matters; how employable graduates are long after they don cap and gown is also a critical measure of the effectiveness of an education, and institutions need to turn their focus to the lifelong relationship they will have with their graduates.
Strong and innovative leadership collaborations keep the college in the community landscape. Today, the president and the college’s leadership team are invaluable resources to states and to the nation—they educate the many talented people who work in our industries, businesses, and civic sectors. Chief executive officers address the overall balance of education at their institutions by looking at community advisory council input, educational trends, and state needs.
A couple years ago, I wrote an essay for Academic Leader suggesting that new deans should examine the administrative implements in their metaphorical “toolbox” to make sure they were ready for the job at hand: providing leadership to their institution when difficult dilemmas require effective administrative action. Those tools included: (1) a hammer when it was imperative to come down hard; (2) a saw when a dean must decide to cut some program or individual loose from the institution; (3) sandpaper to smooth out the rough spots left by hammer and saw; (4) a drill when a complex issue requires more “drilling down” to reach the substrata of the issue; and (5) tape to bind up the fractures, broken relationships, and disconnected policies and practices needing mending.