For many years, preparing for postsecondary education was mainly the job of the incoming student. Being “college-ready” was seen as a rite of passage of sorts. Many high school seniors were working to save for tuition, often studying late into the night to meet or surpass the academic bar set by institutions. Each applicant had the same hope: receiving a coveted letter of acceptance.
While certain responsibilities still lie with today’s students, it’s not uncommon for them to question the level of support they’re getting from the universities and colleges they’re hoping to attend. Yes, being college-ready is important for students, but colleges being “student-ready” is just as pertinent.
Institutions hold the power to determine whether an applicant will be accepted into their ranks, but the choice is ultimately up to the student to accept the offer—solidifying that the college is also ready to meet their needs.
The term “student-ready college” was coined in the book Becoming a Student-Ready College: A New Culture of Leadership for Student Success by Dr. Tia Brown McNair, Susan Albertine, Nicole McDonald, Thomas Major Jr. and Michelle Asha Cooper. Brown McNair, associate vice president of student success at the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), was a panelist in the D2L webinar Meeting Today’s Learners: Reimagined. During the webinar she spoke about the book she helped co-author and delved deeper into what it means for an institution to be student-ready.
Meeting Today’s Learners: Reimagined
Saying no to the status quo: How institutions can break the mold of the “traditional” learner to meet diversifying needs of student populations
Being Student-Ready Is Institutionally Unique
“When my coauthors and I wrote the book, we wanted to make sure that [being student-ready] didn’t become this catchphrase,” said Brown McNair. “We were talking about substantive institutional transformation and deeper reflection.”
For institutions to become student-ready, they require a more in-depth reflection because the preparation is individualized to each school’s context, culture and students.
“It’s really thinking, ‘OK, wait a minute here, these are our students. This is the profile of who we are seeking to educate [and who] we’re admitting into our institution, and this is what we’re offering.’ It’s what we are offering—the characteristics of how we define student-ready—that is going prepare them for work life, being productive members of our communities and being global citizens,” Brown McNair explained.
What an institution offers and who they’re trying to admit must also align with its values.
“I was taught a long time ago [that] clarity in your goals and your values will drive a lot of the transformational work that you need to do to become more student-ready,” said Brown McNair. “I think most of our institutions are student-ready, but we need to keep advancing that work, so that we can support the diversity of the students that we have.”
Maintaining Agility in Student Readiness
Many institutions are already on a good footing when it comes to being student-ready. But Brown McNair points out it’s important to remember that student demographics are always changing, and accessibility and equity are common challenges in the higher education landscape.
“Personally, I need to focus on those people who are going to do the necessary work to support our racial minorities and students from various socioeconomic backgrounds,” she said, also highlighting students with different sexualities, different abilities and veterans as examples. “It’s so important for us to realize that our institutions were not designed for the diversity of the students we have now.
“We have to think critically about what we need to do to become more student-ready and what we need to change to support our students in a way that, unfortunately, many of us are grappling with in this new context.”
I was taught a long time ago [that] clarity in your goals and your values will drive a lot of the transformational work that you need to do to become more student-ready. I think most of our institutions are student-ready, but we need to keep advancing that work, so that we can support the diversity of the students that we have.
Tia Brown McNair, associate vice president of student success, AAC&U
Lifelong learning is also something to consider when remaining agile in dealing with student needs.
“Being student-ready means you’re going to think about preparing all students—whether they’re credentialed or going for a degree, or whether they’re there because they just want to be educated. I think it’s important for us to nurture all students who are part of our community, regardless of their aspirational goals,” said Brown McNair.
“I think that once we come to the mindset that they’re our students and our responsibility, and we’re influencing their pathway, whether it’s to graduate school, a certificate or for continuous education—it’s valuable, valid and important to them.
The Tie Between Student Advocacy and Student Readiness
As discussed in Becoming a Student-Ready College: A New Culture of Leadership for Student Success, one characteristic of a college that is student-ready is its ability to support student advocacy.
Brown McNair believes every person on campus should be a student advocate—somebody who’s willing to speak up for what’s best for each learner. “I don’t care what your role is … Everyone is an educator at the institution, and the concept of building our capacity to be student advocates and what that means within our sphere of influence is a fundamental characteristic of what it means to be a student-ready college,” she continued.
“I do think it’s important for us all to embrace an identity as a student advocate and what that means. And don’t shy away from it and say, ‘That’s not my role; that’s not what I do.’ It doesn’t matter. Everyone is playing that role, but we all have different responsibilities in that larger context of what that means,” she added.
Finding the Link Between Student Needs and Institutional Values
As told by Brown McNair, a college becoming student-ready will require a solid understanding of the target student demographic, their needs and how these needs align with institutional values.
It won’t be a simple exercise of checking items or tasks off a list but will instead require a more in-depth look at what’s important to the institution and how that’s reflected in the support given to students.
For more insights from Brown McNair and about student readiness, check out the full webinar.
Kari is a Content Marketing Manager at D2L who focuses on the world of corporate learning. She enjoys using her research, reporting, writing and multimedia skills to tell impactful stories.
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