How to make strategic goals meaningful for departments and faculty

By Stuart Davis

Despite billions of dollars invested and countless pilot projects, student success remains the number one challenge for community colleges. Even the most progressive institutions struggle to improve key success metrics, such as completion rates.

Why does each new student success initiative inevitably lose steam? Executive support and sense of urgency for reform fail to translate to the faculty and staff level, so faculty aren't sure of their role in student success initiatives.

Even Well-Meaning Faculty Unsure of their Role in Agenda


This uncertainty of how to improve student success creates three major barriers to change:

  • First, many instructors do not understand what to modify in their current practice. Without clear evidence or explicit motivation, experienced instructors will maintain their teaching style.
  • Second, faculty may not understand how to measure their progress in a new initiative, or how new efforts will be evaluated.
  • Finally, they often lack timely information about when and how to intervene with at-risk students.

Data is only part of the solution

A common response has been relying on course-level data dashboards to inform faculty of their students’ common pain points. These tools help faculty see everything from course modality to percentage of above-C withdrawals. But without clear instructions and accountability, they eventually lose utilization and impact.

For example, Spokane Falls Community College (SFCC) introduced a data dashboard several years ago. Unfortunately, senior leaders noticed a steady decline in campus usage. Soon only a few departments and academic leaders paid attention to it and student success progress stalled.

Executive Memo Prompts Widespread Data Dashboard Adoption

Community college

SFCC addressed this issue with a presidential email that explicitly instructed all departments to use the dashboards to improve course completion. The email not only signaled a firm executive commitment to the initiative, but also provided clear instructions for how to use the data dashboards.

In addition, it flagged courses and sections with success rates below 70% in an attached spreadsheet to spur faculty action. It also provided guiding questions for data analysis and suggested additional resources to help individual faculty members improve their course completion outcomes.

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The combination of executive guidance and a commitment to providing support demonstrated the importance of the initiative to department leaders and faculty. Implementation rates have risen since the initial email. Faculty members now use the course-level data dashboards to direct supplementary learning resources to students in need.

Ensure Successful Data Interpretation

4 steps

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6 roles for faculty in student success

Six roles for faculty in student success

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