Navigating Uncertainty: The Urgency of Continuous Improvement

The fourth session in the USU Summer meeting series explored how applying a continuous improvement frame to student success efforts, particularly within the context of institutions’ responses to COVID-19, could serve as a model for sustaining and scaling positive change into the future.

Alison Kadlec, Founding Partner with SOVA, presented a framework for understanding continuous improvement as a holistic approach for implementing large scale institutional change and, specifically, addressing the equity imperative facing higher education. Alison emphasized that large scale equity-focused student success work is deeply counter cultural. It requires mindset shifts and healthy climates for continuous improvement where cross -campus teams not only understand the urgency of improving student success outcomes but also internalize their role in affecting these changes and feel they have the necessary supports to do so.

The session culminated with a discussion of the rapid changes to policy and practice USU institutions have been able to accomplish during the crisis and how institutions might sustain these changes as long-term improvements to advance equity. For example, many institutions revised grading and admissions policies during the COVID-19 crisis to remove unnecessary barriers to student success. Participants discussed what might be needed from senior leaders, mid-level leaders, frontline faculty and staff to sustain these changes at their institutions.

Participants were presented with “Driver Diagrams” for use in guiding conversations with campus stakeholders to explore the root causes of inequitable student outcomes and “90-Day Planning” tools to assist in guiding the change management and evaluative processes. We hope our USU institutions will be able to leverage this approach and these tools as they move into the next year to assess what has not worked in the past, and design new strategies for the future.

Header Image IStock Credit: Hamster3d

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