Changing outcomes for marginalized populations

“Change seems magical!”

Historically, underrepresented and underserved student populations have gone without a fully representative voice, identity or place at many colleges and universities from coast to coast. While achievement gaps still remain, institutions today are focused on improvement, and introducing sweeping internal changes designed to better support marginalized groups. Times — and schools — are changing.

Expanding access to success

But for these improvements to take hold, institutions need to take a deliberate and thoughtful  approach to introducing change. “There are several factors at work that cause a group of people to be underrepresented and marginalized — demographic and social factors,” said Malika Clinkscales, Operations Manager at InsideTrack.

“Schools realize that something needs to be done differently in order to reach these groups. What are those things and how do we change them?”  

As she explains it, the first is including student participation and a student voice. “This could be focus groups. It could be asking alumni for input. It could be talking with different groups of students — they love being considered experts!” 

The second is determining how to tap into the essence of what each marginalized group is all about, while recognizing them as viable, empowered and intelligent.  

Building institutional capacity to improve student outcomes

When people are set in their ways and processes have been in effect for years, change isn’t easy. But with schools facing increasing cultural and demographic shifts, change can’t wait.

According to Clinkscales — who is also a Prosci® Change Practitioner — change management is an essential part of improving outcomes for marginalized populations. Prosci’s strategies inform InsideTrack’s work in supporting institutional change. In higher education, change management can best be described as a methodical approach to dealing with the transition or transformation of a school’s goals, processes, technologies — with a goal of implementing change, achieving change and helping people adapt to change.  

So what does this change management look like and who does it involve? Clinkscales says there’s a specific framework and series of steps that need to be followed — all working together for the good of the students. “There’s a structured way to go through change,” she said.

“It takes the whole organization being a champion for the initiative in order for it to receive the necessary backing to make it happen.” 

And while she notes that to many, “change seems magical,” it’s actually a very complicated process that takes leadership, champions, staff buy-in and continual all-around support and nurturing.

Who’s in charge of the change?

The structure and components necessary for creating change follow a basic pattern. At the highest level is the role of the change “sponsors” or leaders. “Sponsors — executive or senior leaders — have three primary roles,” she noted, incorporating Prosci’s methodology of “The A-B-Cs:”

A: Actively and visibly participate throughout the project

B: Build a coalition of sponsorship with peers and managers

C: Communicate directly with employees

Why a coalition rather than a single senior-level champion? “Leaders often disappear,” she says. They get promoted to a different area or focus. They change schools or jobs. Some retire. “That’s why you need to build a coalition.”

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link

So who, exactly, is involved in managing change to better support marginalized students on an institutional level? Executives and senior management make up one piece of the puzzle. Middle managers and supervisors make up another. Then there’s the project team, along with all of the employees. And at the center of it all is the change management resource or team. “The change management resource on any given initiative is like the conductor of the orchestra or the director of the play. There are a lot of moving parts and a lot of voices that need to be heard, digested and managed,” Clinkscales said. When the initiative includes marginalized students, inclusion in all its many forms is the light at the end of the tunnel.

Ready for the resistance

According to Clinkscales, “It’s important to have someone at the table who views the initiative through a change lens and can help manage and mitigate resistance. What are the pain points you can anticipate? What are you going to get away with … and where will you receive pushback?” She notes that for many staff members, change fatigue sets in. “They feel like if they wait it out, this talked-about change will probably go away and they can stick with what they know.”

She lists three variables related to the resistance of change, another element of Prosci’s strategies. The first is prevention — almost half of all resistance can be prevented. The second is proactive management — anticipating likely resistance and addressing or planning for it. And the third is reactive management — addressing unanticipated or enduring resistance. Knowing how to deal with resistance can make the difference between success and failure.

“A student success initiative impacts a lot of people and departments,” Clinkscales says. “Even if you’re not closest to the change, institutional change will come your way.” When the change being undertaken relates to better supporting student communities, changes will be felt by everyone on campus. As institutions evolve to become more equitable and inclusive, higher education becomes better for everyone. 

Learn how buzz surrounding student success initiatives can become action when it’s accompanied by organizational leadership, teamwork and change.

Old Dominion University was driven by a commitment to enhance the success of all students and underwent a transformational change across the university. Learn how they did it in their case study:

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