The roles and responsibilities that follow the title of ‘provost’ can be rather nebulous and can vary across educational institutions. A provost or chief academic officer of a university providing higher education, although primarily invested with the responsibility of providing direction to a university’s academic affairs and education goals, is often tasked with a number of other duties that require leadership, vision, experience, and sound decision-making. The need to juggle multiple tasks and undertake multiple responsibilities, combined with the ever-changing trends in the job market and the education sector, can make the life of a provost quite complicated.
The multifaceted role of provosts
While the primary role of a provost involves handling academic affairs, an exhaustive list of a provost’s responsibilities often involves a broader range of functions. The list of responsibilities held by a provost keeps growing, as different aspects of educational institutions get increasingly intertwined. Although their involvement in student affairs and classroom learning is far from being hands-on, every decision made by a provost eventually impacts the students in numerous ways. In addition to shaping the student experience, a key responsibility of provosts is managing the staffing needs of their institution and ensuring that the faculty is engaged and utilized optimally. Making strategic decisions regarding the programs offered, and the curriculums of the different programs, also make up a big part of a provost’s roles and responsibilities.
The problems faced by a university provost
As the pile of responsibilities on the provost’s office keeps growing, so does the pile of problems associated with each of those responsibilities. A provost needs to understand these problems and create action plans for solving these problems, which otherwise not only threaten the institution’s future but also the careers of thousands of students.
Ensuring student retention and enrollment
Ensuring high student retention and enrollment rates over the duration of university programs is a key part of a provost’s job. The national average retention rates are far from healthy and are showing minimal signs of improvement. A majority of students enrolled in 4-year college programs drop out well before course completion. This number is abysmally high in private institutions, where half of the students drop out of courses prematurely. A low retention rate not only leads to the disrepute of institutions but also hurts the institutions’ finances and threatens their long-term sustainability. A low retention rate leads to a lower graduation rate. Such a situation does not help institutions during the time of admissions as enrollment rates take a hit. Because obviously, students would not be interested in joining a university with a low graduation rate, right? As provosts are responsible for securing an ideal student retention rate and student enrollment rate, they face the challenge of devising interesting student engagement initiatives and of improving the campus life for students. Provosts also need to tackle any external issues that affect the enrollment and graduation rates, such as hikes in the cost of education or the inundation of students in debt, which discourage students from pursuing higher education.
Adapting to the job market
In addition to ensuring a high enrollment and retention rate in their institutions, provosts are also faced with the challenge of having to plan their educational programs in a way that guarantees a high employment rate. The ultimate aim of any educator is to ensure that his students graduate with adequate skills to be able to meet the demands of top employers. Knowing beforehand what the job market will look like when the students graduate can greatly help institutions in devising curriculums that make students employable. Although provosts are not directly involved in the curriculum design process, the people who are, such as deans, have neither the required time nor the resources to gain insights into the job market and decide what to include and what to omit from their programs. Provosts can use multiple methods to gain insights about the job market, such as talking to their employed alumni or the employers themselves. However, this a time-consuming process and might not provide enough information or absolutely reliable information.
The answers to provosts’ problems
Provosts can be reprieved of their complicated challenges by delegating or sharing their responsibilities. ‘Shared governance,’ i.e., including all stakeholders in the processes of problem identification, problem analysis, and problem-solving can enable provosts and other educational administrators to make the right choices at the right time. Making decisions by involving key stakeholders, such as faculty, deans, and the career development team can not only give provosts a better sense of direction but can also help in executing the plans and initiatives in a frictionless manner.
In addition to employing shared governance, provosts can, and must, take the help of advanced technologies to guide their decisions. Gaining practical insights into campus life can help institutions to ensure improved student outcomes by taking remedial measures to overturn the lack of engagement. Provosts can leverage the power of big data to maximize student retention to ensure higher completion rates. Higher completion rates will be followed by higher graduation rates, which can boost an institution’s future enrollments.
Another way for provosts to enhance enrollments and improve the ranking of their institution or university is by using job market insights to guide curriculum design and course creation. Using job market analytics tools for educators like Talismatic can help provosts to build on universities’ efforts to maximize retention and graduation rates, and to have greater employment-on-graduation rates. A high employment rate can do wonders for an institution’s reputation, as well as, long-term sustainability and competitiveness.