10/26/2012 11:31 am ET Updated Dec 26, 2012

An Administrator's POV: Who Is Accountable for Student Success?

Colleges and universities should have one priority --- student success.

If institutions of higher learning are genuinely committed to increasing student retention and graduation rates, it is essential that they create and sustain a culture of caring, anchored by high expectations and accountability. The responsibility for student success cannot be relegated to a powerless administrator with a poorly staffed office that can do little more than extol the importance of student academic success and offer disjointed support services on an economy budget.

The true responsibility for student success begins with the president or chancellor articulating the university's expectations and putting in place the mechanisms for holding all members of the campus community accountable for desired results. Just as university CEOs are accountable for ensuring that internal controls are in place to comply with a plethora of institutional, state and federal regulatory requirements, they must also be held accountable for retaining and graduating students. To do otherwise is, in my view, a dereliction of responsibility.

Over the course of my 40 year career in higher education, I have served as chancellor at three public universities. I know firsthand that by positively using the power and prestige of the position you can rally members of the university community around a compelling vision for student success. This vision must be characterized by high levels of learning, intellectual and civic engagement and collaboration across the superficial boundaries of academic, student and administrative affairs.

How should presidential accountability for institutional effectiveness generally, and student success specifically, manifest itself? What impact, if any, should graduation rates have on a university CEO's annual performance review? Just as the responsibility for accreditation, clean audits, fund-raising and athletic compliance rests with the university's CEO, the responsibility for student learning, retention, and graduation also lies with him or her. An effective CEO surrounds herself or himself with colleagues who can effectively get the job done.

Institutions that succeed in ensuring student retention are intentional in their efforts and they envelope students in a comprehensive network of support services that are integrated, intensive, intrusive and individualized.

Student are ultimately responsible for their own success; however, they must be able to rely on a host of enablers and supporters along the way. Some of the key influencers who can ensure student achievement is realized are university leaders and faculty.