Student Centricity and Two-Year Colleges: Focus on Students Demands Better RecognitionRegina Smick-Attisano | Executive Director of the Thompson School of Applied Science, University of New Hampshire
The understanding of the importance of student centricity is growing across the higher education marketplace as students are demanding more from their institutions and as the price of postsecondary education continues to rise. However, student centricity is rarely—if ever—well represented by the popular rankings. In this interview, Regina Smick-Attisano shares her thoughts on the work two-year colleges put into delivering a student-centric experience and discusses what needs to happen for this work to be more widely recognized.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): To your mind, what does “student-centered” mean when talking about the operation of an institution?
Regina Smick-Attisano (RSA): When talking about student-centered in operating an institution, it means that the decisions are always made with the student first on the list.
An institution is a complex organization, however, with a focus on the student it helps to make the decisions easier as everyone can agree on keeping students as our number one priority. Students are the reason higher education exists and the goal is to turn a student into an alumnus. To do this, everything about the institution happens because you are making sure the student is successful.
Evo: How are two-year institutions student-centered, and why is this important?
RSA: I believe two-year institutions are student-centered for a couple of reasons:
The first is that we only have the students for four semesters to help them earn their degree. As a result of this short timeframe, a relationship needs to be built immediately, which means that the focus on the student needs to be our primary responsibility and priority. Secondly, many students attending two-year institutions are career-focused, which is a major strength of two-year institutions.
It is important to be student-centered because I believe this is what distinguishes two-year institutions from the baccalaureate, four-year institutions. Two-year schools don’t have the reputation that four-year schools can have, which will attract students. However, the two-year institutions can keep the focus on the students and not have to worry about research grants, wooing big donors and sport teams.
I think, especially given the huge investment colleges require today from students, the students themselves want to be the focus of the education delivered. Higher education today is much too costly not to be the focus of the institution.
Evo: How do the more popular approaches to institutional rankings represent the work of two-year institutions, especially as far as their flexibility, their focus on student outcomes and their support of students?
RSA: From the rankings that I am most familiar with, the work of two-year programs and institutions is largely ignored; these programs and institutions are just now getting the notice of our society.
The ROI of degree completers from two-year institutions has to be better than our four-year counterparts, and this is important to today’s students and their families. I have noticed in a few rankings that two-year colleges are beginning to make the lists.
Perhaps it is time for an organization such as the American Association of Community Colleges or even the US Department of Education to release statistics about the success of their graduates in a national forum.
Evo: To your mind, how would a revised approach to institutional rankings that highlights student centeredness impact demand for two-year education?
RSA: I would have to believe if the factor of student centeredness becomes one of the elements in institutional rankings and two year programs/colleges are given their due, the two year institutions would be seen more readily and consistently in the top spots. This would continue to create the demand for an associate degree and thus increase the value society attaches to the associate degree.
Author Perspective: Administrator