The Digication Blog

Can better educational leadership in institutions solve the numerous challenges in higher education?

The ability of an organization to create inclusive cultures and work practices is greatly influenced by its leaders. Therefore, a fundamental principle of leadership is modeling inclusive leadership behaviors and putting deliberate effort into creating inclusive environments. This leadership will enable the organization to embrace new initiatives, have adaptive teams and attract and keep talent. The same benefits of inclusive leadership can be found in institutions of higher learning.

Over the years, the higher education system has faced many issues and challenges. For example, there have been reports of institutions witnessing huge changes, such as low student enrollment in their communities or increasing student dropout rates. 

university-teacher showcases educational leadership in class

There may be several factors that could lead to such situations.

Some colleges may not attract students because people don’t see enough value in obtaining a degree from these institutions. But on the other hand, students may be skeptical that the institutions weren’t diverse enough, or perhaps the rising cost of higher education created a hurdle.

Can better educational leadership in institutions solve the numerous challenges in higher education?

We invited Howard Wach to join us on the Digication Scholars Conversations podcast to share his insight and perspective. Howard is a former Professor, Dean, Provost, and Vice President of Academic Affairs at Guttman Community College, part of the CUNY system in New York. Previously, he held various VP-level positions at LaGuardia Community College and Bronx Community College. Before that, he was a professor of history.

Howard joined us to discuss issues facing higher education. These issues include decreasing student enrollment, the intrusion of partisan politics, and the difficulties of catering to a diverse student body.

The Leadership Challenges in Higher Education

Past leadership styles are no longer enough to meet the increasing demands and the complex challenges of the 21st century. As we move decades into the millennium, the advancement of technologies has not been able to resolve all the complexities and challenges we now face, especially in the education sector.

Hence, leaders and academic stakeholders must adopt a modern mindset and leadership style to meet the distinctive challenges of the current generation of students.

The demands for our education system to undergo transformation are ever-present. Identifying and solving students’ challenges will improve the rate of enrollment, retention, and completion of college degrees by students.

People who want to enroll in an institution will want to look at how diverse their intended educational community will be. People will ask questions – especially about the mode of delivery, engagement, campus proximity, and many more.

Millennial Leadership in Higher Education

Educational leaders at different levels face many challenges, such as political, economic, and social pressure. They also have to face various academic-related issues daily, some related to their students’ employability after graduation, the current technological trend, and even global market competition.

However, Howard reflects positively on his career with CUNY. “I had an opportunity to do many different things in these different institutional spaces that I found myself in, and I feel a lot of gratitude. I feel fortunate to have been able to do that and made some kind of a difference in the places where I worked.

Having a foot in administration and the other in teaching gave Howard a valuable perspective on educational leaders’ challenges. For example, the primary challenge of many community colleges is completion – many community college students start but never finish.

The student who enters a community college hoping to earn a degree but never completes it incurs a social cost that everybody pays for and a personal cost that the student pays for. Dropping out of school and wasting resources are points of concern for educational leaders.

Therefore, stakeholders needed ways to improve and scale the education system in their communities to stimulate and encourage students to enroll and complete their education.

Although community colleges strive to create the best academic environment to give students access to higher education, many students drop out before earning a degree or certificate. So, what could be the solution?

One of the solutions to this challenge is for community colleges to create First-Year Experience (FYE) courses. This will provide first-year students with the skills and guidance needed to be successful in college.

While at Bronx Community College as the Interim Provost, Howard was fully involved in creating an effective freshman-year program for community college students. He fully kick-started a ‘First Year Seminar Program,’ which continued after he left and became institutionalized after it showed good results.

When Howard moved to LaGuardia, a similar effort was underway, ultimately becoming institutionalized – ePortfolios were involved in both of those efforts.

Howard talked about the role of the electronic portfolio. He highlighted that experiential and active learning idea may not be new, but the ePortfolio tool is a kind of amplifier that fits well with the ideology.

He described ePortfolio as the best amplifier to help students integrate their learning and become active learners in the process.

Leadership for Educational Equity

Many people find community colleges as their entry point into higher education; however, they frequently struggle to meet their educational goals. They encounter several challenges that overwhelm their drive for a college degree and eventually drop out of college.

Some of these students abandon their college degrees due to having to choose between feeding their families or using that same amount for a train ticket to get to class. Community college students frequently sign up for their college degrees and begin their first classes without knowing what they need to succeed.

Howard shed some light on this topic and urged stakeholders to consider structures that could help mitigate the current challenges. He said: “Public school students get bus passes and train passes, but they don’t extend to university students or CUNY students.”

Due to the alarming decrease in student enrollment in higher institutions, community colleges have been under internal and external pressures to increase the graduation rate of their students.

Therefore, people in leadership positions need to identify students’ pain points and negotiate ways to solve most, if not all, of these challenges.

Setting up structures to ease student transitioning and proper orientation may help students to complete their education. Other factors to consider are adopting new educational tech tools and setting a positive tone to accept diversity.

Higher education leadership involves negotiating and executing changes and becoming the bridge that connects all parties – it’s never an easy task.

It may not be easy, but these leaders must steer and direct people toward providing effective solutions to various challenges. They must also recognize and consider the diverse voices, make and implement decisions, and create a healthy academic environment that helps achieve educational goals and objectives.

Moreover, the leaders of educational institutions must have a supportive attitude and provide equal rights and opportunities to all students.

You can watch the inspiring and interesting three-part Digication Scholars Conversation with Howard Wach below:

Community College Veteran Reflects on Leadership and Amplifying Diverse Voices Part 1

Community College Veteran Reflects on Leadership and Amplifying Diverse Voices Part 2

Community College Veteran Reflects on Leadership and Amplifying Diverse Voices Part 3