Considering the extensive overlap in the responsibilities, and areas of involvement, of deans and provosts, one can be excused for confusing the two roles. However, although it’s true that provosts and deans are involved in common initiatives associated with student affairs, such as university retention strategies, financial management, budgeting, and student success planning, the degree of their involvement is a key differentiator. While the provost generally handles student affairs from a purely administrative standpoint, the dean serves a slightly more executive role in overseeing academic affairs. Any significant change or decision regarding academic affairs is made through close collaboration and consultation between the provost and the dean(s). Hence, deans are an essential part of not just the day-to-day activities of a college or university, but also the long-term strategic schemes. The ultimate objective of deans and all their endeavors, like any other educator, be it a university president, chief academic officer, or a faculty member, is to enable student success.
Measuring student success
Student success is usually measured by considering a combination of metrics such as year-by-year student retention, student engagement, and graduation rate, to name a few. A broad, traditional definition of student success has been the achievement of academic milestones and acquisition of skills taught during the college program. Hence, a high retention and graduation rate is usually considered as an indicator of student success, explaining the heavy emphasis laid by deans and other academic leaders on student retention strategies and student engagement initiatives by educational administrators and governments. Although striving for high student retention and graduation rates is a step in the right direction, it is not the be all, end all answer to the student success question.
Redefining student success
The world of education is changing, and with it, the expectations from educational institutions are also growing. In addition to making students excellent professionals and upright citizens, educators are now also expected to assure student employment. And reasonably so. Considering the costs and debts borne by students to pay for education, students have all the right to demand guaranteed employment from their colleges. The need for assuring employment has led to the need for redefining student success. Student success now encompasses not just the academic success of students, but also the realization of their career aspirations after education. Thus, educators, especially deans, are now required to lay equal emphasis on both the on-campus and post-graduation elements of student success.
Ensuring student success on campus
The focus on improving student engagement on campus is continuously increasing as educators are beginning to realize the importance of engaging students in achieving the desired academic outcomes. Deans play a significant role in ensuring a learning-friendly environment for students by constantly involving faculty as well as students in discussions regarding student affairs, and consulting with provosts to devise the required strategies. Deans can also take proactive measures to ensure student engagement and maximize student retention by using different methods to identify unengaged students who are on the verge of dropping out. Monitoring students individually to recognize patterns that indicate a lack of engagement and intervening through faculty members reduces the likelihood of heavy drop-out rates and maintains a healthy retention rate. A healthy retention rate translates into a higher graduation rate, which is a significant milestone in the pursuit of overall student success.
Guaranteeing student success after graduation
Ensuring a high graduation rate is only half the job done, as converting academic proficiency into desired career outcomes for students is crucial for student success. In fact, providing employment to students, no matter how talented, in a competitive job market, is a task riddled with challenges and uncertainties. The biggest hurdle in the modern-day job market is the constant, rapid change in the demand for skills. Skills that were invaluable in the recent past are now being rendered obsolete, given the dynamicity of the labor market. Job roles are emerging, evolving, diversifying, converging, and disappearing at an unprecedented rate, and so are the requisite skills associated with those roles. Employees are understandably finding it hard to train new employees and are expecting graduating students to be ready to meet the existing as well as the projected skill demand.
Deans must ensure that their students graduate with the exact skills that are in demand in the job market. To provide students with in-demand skills, academic programs and curriculums must include these skills. However, until recently, there was no way of knowing what the job market needs at any given time, leaving deans and curriculum planning committees to rely on intuition and unreliable, outdated market data to guide their decisions.
Using skill analysis to achieve student success
Understanding job market trends and performing skill analysis for different roles will allow deans to plan academic curriculums for market-readiness. Job market analytics tools for educators like Talismatic can provide deans with a detailed market analysis that shows not only the demand for individual skills, but also the job roles that require those skills, the associated set of skills that employers prefer, and other key pointers. Using this information, deans can ensure the creation of market-ready curriculums that will guarantee the employment of their students. Training students with skills that are high in demand will not just make them employable, but will also make them highly sought-after.