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Q&A on University Transformation with APLU’s Andréa Rodriguez

Earlier this year, APLU and the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU) unveiled case studies on Florida International University, Georgia State University, and Portland State University’s institutional transformation efforts as part of the Frontier Set initiative. The work represents nearly six-years of in-depth study on institutional transformation and culminated in a series of roadmaps for advancing institutional transformation. We caught up with Dr. Andréa Rodriguez, Director at USU and APLU’s Office of Urban Initiatives, who led the work to learn more about the effort and what other institutions can learn from the three case studies.

The case studies on institutional transformation cover markedly different institutional contexts, including shifts to performance-based funding, institutional mergers, and leadership transitions. What’s the throughline of their work?
The connective tissue among the different institutional contexts is that the contexts were barriers and challenges at one point. The changes these institutions experienced were major catalysts that accelerated their capacity to transform. The three APLU/USU Frontier Set institutions presented separate, unique case studies to understand transformational change models through different contexts. The case studies provide tailored support to the realities of the APLU/USU Frontier Set institutions and build out a knowledge base on transformational change across the institutional contexts, as these broadly apply to many higher education institutions.

The institutional contexts – performance-based funding, mergers, and leadership transitions – could have disrupted the institutional transformation efforts. How were the institutions able to turn these challenges into an opportunity?
Florida International University, Georgia State University, and Portland State University are all public urban-serving research institutions committed to their missions. The institutions’ capacity to swiftly shift and transform amid the institutional contexts demonstrates the value of their leadership and community buy-in, enabling these institutions to continue to operate more flexibly and resiliently in the long-term.

What’s unique about the environment urban-serving public research universities are operating in?
Though regionally diverse, the urban-serving Frontier Set institutions share a common theme: their institutional livelihood and pursuit of ‘solutions’ to barriers/challenges must be integrated into their surrounding community. This integration is unique to urban-serving public research universities as it often requires a change in institutional functional areas, such as data use and resources, to achieve greater curricular alignment across transformational efforts within the local urban system. In addition, urban-serving public research universities shed more aggressive light on the relationship between institution and community that may apply to other urban settings where significant percentages of underserved populations reside.

If an institution is looking to learn and apply the lessons from the case studies, what’s the best way for them to roll their sleeves up and get to work?
I love this question! Very excited to talk about the free online course module! When I was trying to come up with a way to inform higher education about this project and the university case studies that would be quick, easy, and informative, I thought why not a course module? Voilá! APLU/USU developed course modules as an extension of the APLU and USU Frontier Set participating institutions’ case studies that inform how universities and colleges function and take a collective-integrated approach to transformation, encompassing a broader and deeper range of structural, systemic, and programmatic changes. There are three modules: the first module allows learners to familiarize themselves with the concept of institutional transformation; the second module helps learners gain an understanding of the elements of institutional transformation; and the third module combines knowledge acquired in the first two modules and resource guides in developing a response to questions aligned with institutional transformation. Folks can access it for free here: https://fiuit.instructure.com/courses/801

  • Degree Completion & Student Success

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