News & Media

Executive Director’s Note

Hi everyone, I’m passing the pen this month to my colleague Gregory Thornton to share what we have learned from the Intermediaries for Scale experience. Enjoy! – Julia Michaels, Executive Director and Associate Vice President, Center for Public University Transformation.

By Gregory Thornton

Although institutional transformation is a goal for many institutions, getting there can be a daunting challenge. Adding to the difficulty, each institution has a unique set of assets, needs, and characteristics that inform its journey.

In 2021, we launched an application for Powered by Publics institutions to participate in the Intermediaries for Scale (IFS) cohort learning experience, an investment program funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Sixteen universities from eight different clusters were selected to collectively transform policies and practices on their campuses to increase equitable student success. Since the project’s inception, IFS institutions participated in an in-depth assessment of their student success needs, met monthly as a peer learning community, and shared data through the Postsecondary Data Partnership. For the next 15 months, the cohort will receive customized technical assistance in advising, digital learning, equitable design, data literacy, and/or strategic finance to support their institution’s transformation efforts.

With the project recently transitioning from the cohort-based work to the individually focused service delivery phase, we have learned some important lessons about the transformation process at various levels. One important lesson is that a carefully structured peer team-based cohort can help institutions throughout the process and share learning along the way. Transformation also takes time. It takes a shared leadership vision communicated with the campus community, backed with dedicated resources and the strategic use of data.

Institutions shared various lessons from the project as well. They noted excitement for additional resources to support transformation, but particularly amid a pandemic-constrained environment, they faced barriers from limited capacity to identify, communicate, and organize large cross-functional teams, difficulty getting buy-in, and initiative fatigue. Institutions also found value in connecting with peers in their “mini-service cohorts” and building a longer-term network focused on sharing ideas and learning about best practices from like-minded institutions.

Dr. Samaad Keys, a program officer with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation who led the Foundation’s involvement in the APLU Intermediaries for Scale investment, also shared insights gleaned from the project. Dr. Keys shared that true transformation requires that equity be explicit and prioritized in all transformation efforts. He also shared that transformation is people-reliant and process-heavy and that capturing faculty, staff, and particularly student voice is key. Finally, he said transformation takes time, resources, and evidence-based interventions to be successful.

We look forward to taking a deeper dive into these insights – and more – at our Powered by Publics convening on November 5 in Denver, CO. Save the date!

I’m also delighted to highlight some of the other updates in our newsletter this week:


Gregory Thornton is an associate director in APLU’s Center for Public University Transformation.

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