Experts say the diversity of achievement, equity, and attention to student success are key factors.
Students, faculty, and communities want to be associated with thriving colleges. Factors such as curricula, research activities, rankings, study abroad, distinguished alumni lists, ethnic diversity programs, state-of-the-art facilities, and return on investment can indicate growth in the academic status and influence of an institution, some experts say.
Others say colleges that embrace a generational cohort that includes diverse millennials and Gen Z students — post-millennials born between 1997 and 2012 — are part of a high-profile trend among cutting-edge colleges.
Experts in the field of higher education point to some distinctive attributes of universities that are on the rise, as opposed to schools that are stable or declining.
“There are several signs that a college is on the up,” Lynn Pasquerella, president of the American Association of Colleges and Universities, wrote in an email. “While many might cite enrollment trends, AAC&U is focused on increasing graduation rates, social mobility, and closing equity gaps. In addition, we pay attention to curricular innovation; access for all students to High Impact Internships, such as internships, first-year seminars, undergraduate research, and study abroad; and the implementation of holistic counseling.”
Emphasis on equity
Mamie Voight, president and CEO of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, a nonprofit advocacy organization, wrote in an email that providing equity for underrepresented Black, Latino, Hispanic, Native American, Asian and Pacific Islander students and low-income fosters “economic mobility that benefits students, families, and society.”
“This requires making data-driven, equity-driven decisions that are student-centered and student-centered, with particular attention to students who have long been underserved and marginalized by higher education,” adds Voight. “These rising universities understand that institutional barriers contribute to inequitable postsecondary outcomes and use data to identify and remove systemic barriers to success.”
She cites as an example IHEP’s Degrees When Due program, a national initiative to award academic credentials to students who have earned but not received them and to re-engage college dropouts. Nearly 200 schools have participated since DWD launched in 2018, Voight says, and nearly 1 in 10 students whose degrees were audited in the program had met the requirements for a degree but the degree was never conferred, often due to bureaucratic obstacles such as incomplete paperwork or holds on student accounts.
“A university on the rise is committed to using this type of data wisely and is committed to acting on the results,” says Voight.
Stella M. Flores, associate professor of higher education and public policy in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Texas-Austin, says that higher education in the US “is in crisis,” citing declining college tuition, lower birth rates, and college closures. There are clear implications for equity, she says.
“The competition is now for high-earning students who are likely to be successful upon graduating from college,” Flores wrote in an email. “The reality is that the new student demographic is going to be low-income and minority who are probably first or maybe second-generation college students. Their parents may be struggling with student debt even if they have graduated from college. ”
Focus on student success
Equity efforts are part of a broader focus on student success that characterizes rising colleges, experts say. The way schools are addressing student success in response to the coronavirus pandemic is revealing, says Voight.
“A college on the rise recognizes the immense potential of the 36 million Americans who had some college experience and no degree before the pandemic, along with the lost opportunity for students whose studies were disrupted by the COVID upheaval.” -19,” he says. “These emerging universities seek out those who have not started their post-secondary journey, as well as those who have started it and not yet completed it. Ultimately, they embrace their role in fostering mobility through completion of the college to change the lives of individuals and families, while also building a stronger economy, a more robust workforce, and more vibrant communities.”
Flores says college access and success would improve for more students if colleges and their rankers put less emphasis on factors like standardized test scores – which are “one-time portraits and don’t take into account forms of inequality that have played a role in test scores” – and pay more attention to diversity, support for low-income families, and institutional accountability to the surrounding community.
That kind of university, she says, “would pride me as a vehicle of American opportunity.”
High level of external commitment
A high level of community engagement regionally, nationally, and internationally is another strong sign of a university on the rise, says John LaBrie, dean of the School of Professional Studies and vice chancellor for professional education at Clark University in Massachusetts.
“Are faculty considered opinion leaders in their academic fields? Do the popular press quote faculty and administrators on various topics in their publications and reports? Do sports teams make it to championships and play in key tournaments? This type of outward-focused engagement can go a long way in projecting to the wider community that a school is dynamic and interesting.
Pasquerella, a former university president, says this is critical now because of mistrust of higher education in general and concerns that a college degree isn’t worth it.
An increasingly important factor in rising universities is how they position themselves as anchor institutions in communities and demonstrate that their success is intertwined with the economic, educational, psychological, and social well-being of those communities, she says.
“This, in turn, often requires a reevaluation of the criteria for awarding title and promotion to include community engagement and the establishment of reciprocal community partnerships,” says Pasquerella.
Traditionally, faculty promotion and tenure have been linked primarily to factors such as the level of research and published writing by the faculty, while the time and effort spent mentoring students and voluntary engagement with the community they value less in the appointment process for ownership.
A well-defined brand
“In my opinion, a school that has an exceptional brand in the marketplace is often also well poised to be a rising school when that school’s brand is consistent with a highly valued societal need,” says LaBrie, an expert in credentialing. higher education institutions.
“For example, if students and parents demand ROI, a return on their investment, then a university that is well known and respected for its industry-aligned professional practices and programs is well-positioned to be a rising star.”
Deep financial resources
Among the universities on the rise, a key characteristic is a money. Some schools are investing more drastically in grantmaking and development operations to increase their chances of getting those funds, Flores says.
“The reputation of universities usually responds to external factors established by the market, donors, and government forces,” says Flores. “Access to large research grants – which fund not only researchers but also students and general university expenses – play an important role in ranking universities. These grants support universities and faculty, for example, and create incentives to apply for more grants, which is not a bad result on average.”
Universities must have the necessary resources to maintain wealth in order to survive, adds Flores. However, the colleges that need the most resources are likely to be those that “have the least history of contact with the forces that grant this rising and prospering status: broad-access institutions, community colleges, and many minority-serving institutions.” “, He says.
Those institutions will have a much harder time moving up “unless we change our priorities about which universities we want to build for greater economic and social impact on the nation,” she says.
Colleges are on the rise “when a confluence of attributes seems to come together in a relatively short period of time,” says LaBrie.
“These attributes can include things like growing student application pools, large philanthropic giving, new research, and academic launches, or a growing campus footprint. If the school is able to authentically project these types of diverse accomplishments over a period of time, your peers will consider it a school on the rise.”