How can colleges serve the postmodern student?

Dr. Sanford “Sandy” Shugart, president of Valencia College in Orlando, Florida, delivered the opening keynote address at AACRAO's 2014 Technology and Transfer Conference at the Marriot Harbor Beach Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

As winner of the first Aspen Institute Prize for Excellence, Valencia is one of the most celebrated community colleges in America. Serving some 70,000 students per year, Valencia is known for high rates of graduation, transfer, and job placement and has become a national laboratory for best practices in learning centered education.

PoMo students

Shugart’s presentation, "To Serve Authentically: The Challenge and Gifts of a Postmodern Generation," used music, stories, and poetry to reflect on how to serve today’s students in an authentic manner.  Many younger students have grown up in a culture that differs profoundly from that of college administrators, and they are deeply skeptical about institutions and their motives. 

According to Shugart, fewer students today experience higher education at just a single institution.  Instead, many students exist in ecosystems or networks of higher education institutions.  

"Students swirl in and among, stop out, start back, change majors, change departments, change colleges,” Shugart wrote in Inside Higher Ed. This new dynamic is the "new normal" in higher education--and policy makers and college administrators have to adjust accordingly. 

Personalized pathways

To meet this generation's needs and expectations, articulation of credit will have to give way to carefully designed pathways that deepen student learning and accelerate their progression to completion, Shugart says.  Administrators can facilitate the pathways students are creating for themselves and smooth the way with curricular decisions that make sense for students. 

Shugart urges administrators to be guided by a simple design principle: College is what the student experiences. It is how students experience the institution that counts--not the other way around. Institutional programs, systems, and ecosystems built around student experience--working for deep, relevant, coherent experience and degree completion--have a much better chance of achieving institutional and student goals. 

Break the rules

Shugart's final advice to conference attendees was to know when and how to break the rules to service students.  Every student is a person and technology allows us to treat them in a deeply personal way.  Student services should be centered on facilitating student success. Shugart underscored that student success is everybody’s job, which explains why there is a heavy emphasis on teaching and experimenting with new methods at Valencia.  

About Tech/Transfer 2014

The technology program, directed by Mark McConahay, Associate Vice Provost and Registrar from Indiana University-Bloomington, provided attendees a roadmap for dealing with the disruptive changes they face (e.g., rapid advance of IT, expectations of students/faculty, MOOCs, financial pressures, etc.) while fulfilling their fundamental mission.  The transfer program, directed by Dr. Lee Furbeck, Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Cleveland State University, focused on the areas of reverse transfer, transformational institutional culture, transfer recruitment strategies, transfer student success, advising, and transfer of credit.