If you Google the word, here is what you will find.
"A soft area of land that gives way underfoot."
"An awkward, complex, or hazardous situation."
And for many college freshman, that is exactly what it feels like to walk on to campus for the second time.
I'm not talking about the first time. You know...the one when you tour the campus, seeing the best of everything. When you get what J-Lo calls "the goosies". When you seal the deal that this will be your University with the rite of passage that has happened for decades. You buy the sweatshirt from the bookstore, and wear it all over your hometown.
Everything is full of hope and excitement on the first visit. But when it comes time to wave to your parents from the curb as they become smaller, disappearing into the distance that is your former existence...something shifts.
Don't get me wrong. You are still excited. Come on, man. You've just reached the pinnacle of freedom.
Where do you start?
So much freedom, so much time.
Until there isn't.
Yeah...it happens the moment the first syllabus drops in front of you, with the weight of an anvil. It's multiplied a few times over...from class, to class, to class.
All of a sudden free time looks like one of those freezer bags that gets any quantifiable amount of air left sucked out of it by a vacuum-looking device.
Welcome to college.
If you arrive at this point still unsure of "WHAT" you want to be when you grow up, "WHAT" your major should be, "WHAT" classes you should take...it can be a lot like knowing you are hungry, but afraid to take a bite. Why? Because you know you are allergic to some of it...you just don't know what part of it.
Silly analogy? Maybe.
Wouldn't it be nice to know what you were allergic to, before you consumed it?
I think there are 2 Quagmire-like times in a college freshman's life.
First steps and next steps.
Arriving and deciding.
How do you recapture the "sweatshirt-from-the-bookstore" feeling, when you are staring at the "what-the-heck-do-I-do-now" reality?
Take a step back.
Think about WHO you are and WHY you exist. Think about the very thing that drives you. Think about what you love to day-dream about.
Start to think about what you believe in. The non-negotiable values that steer you. The ones, that at the end of the day, will keep you on track, on time, and on point...amidst the attractive distractions (and they will come) that flood the world of every college freshman.
Think about it this way...
When you know WHO you are, you will know WHAT to do. You exist to do something of significance, based on who YOU are.
This may sound fancy and idealistic. Maybe it is. But from my personal experience, having lived it...and failed out...and hearing from current day college students...this matters.
And at the risk of losing you altogether, I have some homework for you.
Write down the problem that bothers you the most in the world today. Now write down next to it, what you are uniquely equipped to bring to it. (Not what degree you think you need, or major you think you need to declare) Be specific.
Write down the problem.
Write down where you would LOVE to participate in building the solution.
Once you get to the place where you begin to see the end, you will know where to start.
Once you start to see how you are built, you will know what you can bring to the table.
Once you know WHO you are, you will know WHAT to do.
That'll turn your Quagmires into Questions. Questions are a good thing. They lead to solutions.
No more loose footing and awkward unknowns.
Your first steps become confident next steps.
Your arrival is no longer about just survival.
It's time to thrive.
It's been talked about a lot, lately. Largely because it's a core attribute of the Millennial generation. With their ability to access almost anything from anywhere at the drop of a hat, how decisions are made is changing.
Collaboration is no longer a nicety, it's a necessity.
Don't get me wrong. It's not like I believe the concept was invented yesterday, and the many generations prior to Millennials never worked in groups to solve problems. But...the fact is that the needle towards how much emphasis is placed on collaboration is moving, and moving fast.
When you can get information from anywhere, it's expected that any voice that wants to be part of the conversation can be. And we no longer live in a world where that is up for debate. Ask just about any organization, and they will tell you (if they know what they are doing) they no longer "control" the conversation about who they are.
The same is true in higher education.
And that's not bad news.
It should be seen as an amazing opportunity.
To connect. To engage. To empower.
What's the alternative?
The exhaustion found in isolation.
Administrators having closed door meetings, deciding on the entire direction their institution will take. Faculty believing their only role is to teach, and retreating to their office with a closed door when they are done. Students understanding that thumbs on keyboards, and earbuds in ears aren't valuing the relationships next to them. All of it creating more isolation, when what we need is healthy conversation. Across all groups of people, and beyond just the walls of the institution.
I'm not over-generalizing, and saying this is the case everywhere, for every University. But I'd be willing to bet that there are pockets of this on most campuses. And therein lies the amazing opportunity. Again...trading isolation for conversation.
No University is an island. And it's time to look deeper into why the recruitment, enrollment, and retention challenges are here, and what can be done about them.
There are 3 things that the exhaustion from isolation
will do to any team. And more good news...it's avoidable.
1. Desperation: Some institutions of higher learning fall into this trap. It's trying every idea that comes across the table to be "relevant". Most of the ideas tried end up being ones other Universities have tried, and have been remotely successful with in the past. The problem? Notice I said "the past". There is no forward thinking leadership in desperation. It's hang on and survive, not step out and thrive. But, Brett..."new" might not work. You're right. If it does? You just traded in desperation for innovation. That's a solid upgrade.
2. Frustration: When enrollment and retention begin to decrease, frustration increases. Trying to solve the problem only through internal channels may seem like the natural play here. I'd suggest this is the time to look externally as well. A "both-and" approach. Taking the best of who you are and connecting it with the very connected world "outside the University walls". Fighting off frustration comes when leadership is committed to doing something very different. Daring to question the status quo.
3. Unmet Expectation: Unfortunately, this is the "blame game" portion of the program. It's when the numbers don't look good, so the institution looks for the person they need to pin it on. I would suggest it's less of a person problem at this point, and simply a vision problem. What do I mean by that? It could be one of a few things. The University may not have a vision that is clear and concise (not a wordy paragraph where every other word is five syllables, just to sound good). If you can't articulate it, how can anyone be expected to follow it? If the University does have this in place, it's possible that hiring faculty and staff is done more as a "fill the position" mode, than to "support the vision". Bringing in people who aren't sold out to who you are and why you exist is a recipe for unmet expectations, because the measure of success looks different to everyone. And lastly...the recruitment never stands a chance, because it's being done by best of intentions, rather than intentionally. The "fill the funnel" method...aka, just get them here, and get a deposit. It just doesn't work that way anymore. Sometimes you have to grow differently. Addition, by subtraction...so that you can multiply. Cut out what doesn't cling to your vision (prune), so that who you are can grow back even stronger over time.
I realize it can be hard to have these conversations, and I applaud all of the Universities that are currently taking the time to do so. It's time we look at collaboration as a gift. The alternative? Continuing to work in isolation...facing the unwanted acts of desperation, feelings of frustration, and the reality of unmet expectations.
I have a friend, who is a professor, that made a comment recently about what needs to happen in higher education. Short, sweet and to the point.
"Deconstruct to reconstruct".
The only way it will work is through true collaboration.
Administration, faculty, staff, students...
AND those outside the 4 walls of the institution.
In the same room.
Make the decision to be intentional about building these relationships,
so that you create teams of influence.
That's how you...
Change a campus.
Change a life.
Change the world.
One collaboration at a time.
Today alone, I have been in contact with Universities that have the following titles on their leadership teams...
Director of Student Success & Retention
Director of First Year Programs
Director of Campus Life & First Year Experiences
VP of Student Success & Calling
Dean of Student Success & First Year Experience
Director of First Year Experience
When I hear these titles,
I can't help but get excited.
This is educational leadership at the highest level.
They are recognizing that the world of higher education is changing...
and doing everything they can to lead the way.
These titles tell me that campus leaders are willing to do whatever it takes to meet students where they are at. By doing so, they are walking with students on their journey, to get them where they are called to go.
It doesn't get any better than that!
It's an honor and a privilege to be part of that process.
The 2015-2016 academic year is going to be EPIC!
Buckle-up and enjoy the journey!!!
From the desk of our founder, Brett W. Gould.