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The Way Forward: Intrusive Intervention

Serving today’s students means creating new learning models, integrating new technological innovations and responding to new needs as they arise.

In this article, we have an in-depth discussion about how Union County College has dedicated its efforts to enhance student success outcomes over thirteen years. As higher education experiences business model challenges, mental health concerns among students and the disruption of artificial intelligence, all institutions are searching for a way forward. In episode 625 of The EdUp Experience Podcast, host Joe Sallustio and co-host Laura Ipsen interviewed the passionate and vocal Dr. Margaret McMenamin, President of Union College in New Jersey, about necessity of accommodating developing learner requirements and demographics. The conversation shares both ambitious outlooks and hands-on tactics to help higher ed organizations change to meet their crucial academic and social purposes.

Purposeful Leadership

Having led higher education institutions for over 40 years, Dr. McMenamin gives useful information on assisting vulnerable students, building a supportive campus climate, improving student achievement numbers and preparing colleges for a high-tech future powered by advanced intelligent systems.

By evaluating all programs and positions based on their impact on retention and graduation rates and reallocating funds away from those not demonstrating results, Union College was able to dramatically turn things around without increasing their budgets. President McMenamin believes the institution’s success is due to refocusing on the mission of “transforming our community one student at a time.” She explains that Union College strives to be a Golden Rule college, where faculty and staff treat struggling students as they would want a shy family member to be treated. Initiatives like learning and using students’ names, saying hello so students feel welcomed, dishing out hugs when appropriate and keeping proper career preparation at the front of each interaction.

A Student-Centered Culture

A priority at Union College is supporting first-generation and immigrant students seeking economic mobility. Recent research confirms that modest emergency grants enable community colleges to overcome unexpected expenses that threatened education. As co-host Laura Ipsen noted, financial assistance and wraparound service models help keep vulnerable students on track—even when it’s just a few hundred dollars. A fender-bender, cell phone bill or an unexpected expense can be the justification a student uses to stop out or drop out.

Another essential aspect President McMenamin emphasized is fostering a student-centered culture that gives every learner a sense of belonging on campus. When students feel ignored or excluded, their self-confidence declines, which leads to doubt and indecision. Treating students with kindness and respect can significantly impact their confidence and perseverance. The aim is to guide students toward their careers or education paths. Research highlights the importance of relationships and recognition from professors, staff and fellow students in fostering a sense of belonging among marginalized student communities.

Looking Ahead

Looking into her crystal ball, President McMenamin predicts exponential change in higher education driven by emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and virtual reality. She believes the classroom and learning models most colleges use today will be unrecognizable in ten years. To lead rather than follow the shifts, she has created a commission of forward-thinking faculty and staff to stay focused on what’s coming, not what is already here.

*This article was adapted from a transcript of The EdUp Experience Podcast, hosted by Joe Sallustio, co-hosted by Laura Ipsen and featuring Dr. Margaret McMenamin—President of Union College.