Prioritize the student experience.
Expert practitioners and researchers alike stress that qualitative research is as vital as quantitative research for building a culture of evidence and improvement. Leaders of effective institutions understand that elevating and amplifying the voices and experiences of students are essential means of designing, implementing and refining models and interventions for maximum impact. Such attention to student experience and voice is also an intrinsic part of the ongoing work of dismantling deeply entrenched and biased structures, processes and mindsets that have historically raised barriers the highest for students who are low-income, of color, and returning adults.
In addition to elevating student voice and perspective, faculty and staff must be supported to learn together in the service of continuous improvement for students. Without the creative energy and commitment of a critical mass of faculty, staff and administrators at every level, even the most promising reforms are unlikely to achieve their potential. Frontline faculty and staff must have structured opportunities to reflect on their practices and to engage both qualitative and quantitative data. An authentic culture of continuous improvement is best cultivated over time through the creation of learning communities or communities of practice that bring together faculty and staff to engage data in a spirit of deliberative inquiry for improved action. Communities of practice are vehicles for both strengthening and deepening campus-wide commitment to scaled reform and for implementing and refining evidence-based approaches to providing professional development for faculty, staff and administrators.
Only with true leadership commitment, operationalized through resource allocation and the dedicated creation of time and space for deep listening and learning, will institutions equip themselves to provide all students with access to programs that promote upward mobility.