Daniel F. Chambliss published an article on September 15, 2014 in The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled “The Power of the Personal.” The article begins with the bleak outlook of higher education’s financial future coupled with the inherent need for universities to discover student success “improvement strategies that are simultaneously reliable, powerful, available and cheap.” Chambliss further writes, “Such methods should consistently work well, clearly repay the effort they require, be usable by almost anyone on campus, and require little time and no additional money.” The author’s shoestring solution is that talk is cheap and relationships are built one conversation at a time. No operating budget funds need to be expended to highlight the importance of face-to-face engagement with our students.
Chambliss and Takacs, in their multi-year longitudinal study of students, found that “personal relationships with both peers and faculty members, starting from direct contact, were fundamentally important to undergraduate success and could be readily facilitated by the institution.” Student engagement begins from the moment a college extends a genuine welcome to its incoming first-year class. Following that, summer and fall orientation sessions serve as introductions to fundamentally important relationships: faculty advisors, staff mentors, and peer friendships. Student success is then a product of excellent advising, teaching and fostering student involvement. The more involved students are in and out of the classroom the greater likelihood students will persist and experience an “on-time” graduation.
At Loyola, we measure student involvement, both curricular and co-curricular, through the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). NSSE’s research supports “the more involved students are in an institution, the more vested they will be. The higher the student involvement level the higher their grades are and the more likely they are to re-enroll for the next semester.” NSSE underscores the importance of student involvement as “vital for an institution to create a culture, not just a campus.” Loyola University New Orleans has a distinct culture as a friendly campus where diversity is celebrated. Time and time again we hear, and receive survey results, that Loyola is a place where students, faculty, staff, and alumni feel a sense of belonging.
Loyola University New Orleans currently faces the challenge of how to leverage our relational aspects with continuing to create a culture where, as Chambliss writes, “at its heart, higher education is a human activity, powered primarily by bringing thinkers together. So rather than attending so much to programs and policies, maybe higher education should focus first on its people, and on helping them find—and eventually care about–one another.”
The Chambliss piece easily aligns with the Jesuit ideals of dignity, compassion and wholeness. We carry out Chambliss’s advice daily. Conversations are free and talk is cheap when finances are tough to come by and students succeed best in an environment where they are engaged, connected, and cared for. As Susan Scott wrote in her book Fierce Conversations, “while no single conversation is guaranteed to change the trajectory of a career, a company, a relationship or a life—any single conversation can.”