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Faculty members are critical agents in student success but are surprisingly underemployed in that effort, according to a new paper from the Education Advisory Board, a best practices firm advising college and university administrators. “The Evolving Role of Faculty in Student Success” is based on interviews with 120 higher education leaders. (An infographic is available here.) It says that without engagement among faculty, “most top-down student success initiatives are doomed to fail, either through outright opposition or because of a limited reach.” Sometimes administrators don’t communicate their expectations about supporting students to faculty members, according to the report, and best practices -- where they are being employed -- often remain within pockets of an institution.

“Critical reforms that pertain to curricular requirements, academic policies, advising practices and transfer articulation all rely on the willingness of faculty to redesign the institutional approach and carry out a new set of procedures, but many academic administrators have neglected to involve faculty from the outset,” the paper says.

The most important responsibility of individual faculty members is to enhance the student learning experience, according to EAB. Pedagogical innovations may be plentiful on campuses, but training and support in those practices may be lacking, the paper says. So faculty leaders should be empowered to expand the use of known, effective techniques across departments.

Early-warning systems to identify at-risk students have been purchased or developed by three-quarters of colleges and universities, according to EAB, but they’re not all being used. Faculty members should be able to customize the threshold for academic risk and intervention protocols in these systems to maximize participation. And the provost and academic deans “must reinforce the importance of early alerts among faculty, and demonstrate their impact on getting help to students in a timely matter,” the report says.

Student support efforts tend to target the most and least at-risk students, the report says, while “faculty-student mentoring should address those in between.” Failing to establish a meaningful connection to campus in the first year means student is more likely to struggle as he or she progresses. But targeting mentoring practices to students who are on track but not engaged in a learning community or student organization can help ensure their success, according to EAB.