Reimagining the Student Compact: Lessons from History

Historically, times of great disruption have brought opportunities for positive change. The pandemic had an undeniable impact on the college landscape–but the sea change began long before this global inflection point. Much like World War II brought the GI Bill and a new era of opportunity for returning soldiers, the past two years have given rise to the need to dramatically rethink the student experience.

Fortunately, higher education institutions are well poised during moments of disruption to find ways to reimagine the possibilities.

For example, meeting students where they are has never been more important. To do that, it is imperative to properly assess each student’s individual situation and needs. With a mission-centered focus, Holy Family has always been dedicated to a holistic approach to the student experience.  To best serve today’s learners, we have been focused on flipping the script, and rather than asking students to conform to outdated policies and norms, we are listening to what they truly need and responding with just-in-time solutions.

We must continue to respond to the seismic shifts in higher education where institutions should explore the why behind the decisions being made, ensuring that every choice is made not based on historic practice or convenience, but on behalf of a student’s needs. 

In his 1950 address to the National Convention of the American College Personnel Association, the Commissioner of Labor Statistics, Ewan Clauge, noted that that year’s number of graduates (nearly half a million) was double the pre-war peak in 1940.  Increases in enrollment (attributed to the GI Bill) led to capital improvements at state universities for dormitories and classrooms. Education led to higher wages, boosting the post-war economy and creating a beneficial generational ripple effect.

Much like post-World War II, the pandemic exposed unmet needs and unrealized opportunities – from inequities in race, income, and disability to the need to provide better access to educational services for all aspects of the student experience. This includes everything from course delivery to advising, to mental health, and from face-to-face during extended hours, to hybrid, synchronous, and asynchronous delivery mechanisms. We are serving our students more efficiently and more individually than ever before. 

But this mind shift is not based on a one-time analysis. It is continuously informed by data and strengthened by the learnings from ongoing assessment and an iterative process to ensure that ongoing adjustments are built into the process of serving students to ensure their success. 

Higher education has proven time and again that it is at the heart of transformational change in society. Our responsibility is great but history shows that our efforts create lasting impact.