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Faculty Engagement Equals Student Retention

Faculty Engagement Equals Student Retention


By Dr. Michelle Meadors, Business Management Professor and Dr. Reginald Turner, Campus President, Westwood College, Northlake Campus



Although in many respects the for-profit colleges (also known as career colleges) have developed a more flexible and responsive system of delivering post secondary educational services, especially to adult students, proprietary institutions have not always exerted optimal effort with faculty engagement. Faculty engagement is defined as the broader involvement of faculty in departmental and campus projects, policy development, program formation, research involvement on topics relative to campus improvement strategies, and student organizational advising and academic program development (Rhodes, 2012). All efforts entailing faculty engagement is to place adjunct and full-time faculty in roles where they have a larger impact to the campus culture and initiatives.

All colleges, but more specifically for-profit colleges, completing the hard work of transforming themselves to become more focused on and accountable for student success must think about faculty engagement in the broader context of the change process and consider how specific engagement practices might be employed to increase student success and retention. As faculty engage in campus endeavors that involved them encountering students in different aspects outside of the classroom, stronger relationships can be built thus providing a foundation for increased student matriculation and graduation.

The importance of engaging faculty throughout the process of institutional change is direly important to affect positive increases with student retention. When thinking about how to engage full-time and adjunct faculty early and often in developing student success initiatives, for-profit colleges will be in an improved position to sustain and bring to scale the most successful of them. One of the advantages of examining faculty engagement is that it becomes easier to consider how to deploy strategies that are appropriate to the goals of the change effort, and that are appreciative obstacles and opportunities that exist at various steps along the way. Of course, change is never simple and linear in reality as it is on paper, but this straightforward framework can help for-profit colleges make decisions about when and where to invest energy and resources in engaging full-time and adjunct faculty in ways that will maximize the power of student success initiatives leading to increase retention rates.


The lack of faculty engagement

The use of adjunct faculty is increasing in higher education institutions. In the United States, nearly 90 percent of all instruction is lead by adjunct faculty members in career colleges or for-profit higher education institutions (AAUP, 2011). According to U.S. Department of Education statistical data (2010), in 1986 career colleges enrolled 300,000 students, and by 2008 the enrollment was 1.8 million. The growth of career colleges has outpaced that of traditional colleges, community colleges, technical institutes and universities (AAUP, 2011). This growth demonstrates a need to provide appropriate academic and support structures for adult student learner success.

While adjunct faculty members are the growing faculty majority, they are often absent in faculty leadership teams and lack the support needed to foster their workplace success (Gappa, Austin, & Trice, 2007). Additionally, they do not receive benefits and lack job security and resources in their respective colleges (Gappa, et al., 2007). This lack of receipt of benefits can be derived from the perception that adjuncts do not spend substantial time on campus with students, faculty, and staff as full-time faculty do insinuating that adjuncts do not or should not be more integrated into the various functions of the institution nor be provided additional resources to engage them more into the many campus endeavors that exist. Moreover, research studies indicated that in addition to adjunct faculty, full-time instructors have been absent on decision-making committees, underappreciated, and marginalized in higher education institutions overall (Gappa, Austin, & Trice, 2007; Wallin, 2005). As this is so, full-time faculty will not feel that leadership values their contributions beyond the classroom and they too will not seek out departmental or campus opportunities to engage in. These workplace conditions have led to job satisfaction challenges among adjunct and full-time faculty and thereby attributing to faculty disengagement throughout the campus.

The aforementioned and more pressing obstacles such as faculty workloads and administrative duties, initiative overload, lack of connection, resistance to mandates from leadership, and lack of faculty integration have also attributed to diminished student success and student retention due to lack of faculty engagement. Faculty are a key catalyst to maintaining and increasing student retention due to the substantial time and effort faculty engage in when being involved in several aspects of their institution outside of the classroom. Leadership of educational institutions must devise ways to incorporate the assets of all faculty to aid in a prosperous academic environment.


Methods to engage faculty

Engaging faculty is a means to developing high caliber faculty that will use their knowledge, skills, and abilities to cultivate a campus culture focused on academic progression, collective efforts, and educational continuity. In fostering such an environment, academic institutional leaders must first understand what faculty engagement entails and understand its importance to the goals of their college. The principles and practices of constructive engagement involve the following:


  1. Leadership that respects faculty and inspires engagement

To begin the process of the first step in engaging faculty into the campus culture, academic institutional leaders must articulate their campus’ vision and connect the dots to ensure that all faculty, adjunct and full-time, see their value and their place in this vision. In doing so, accountability to their contributions will be enhanced as faculty see that their place is instrumental to meeting institution goals. In addition, administration needs to establish an atmosphere of interdisciplinary collaboration among the academic departments. Further encouragement of partnerships between faculty and other campus departments for activity and program development will be critical to deeper faculty integration. To see this situation realized, institutional leaders must respect the knowledge, expertise, commitment, and contributions that faculty bring to the college, especially adjuncts who bring a wealth of germane and current expertise to their work. As such respect is given, recognition of academic and industry accomplishments must occur in campus-wide forums. These efforts will showcase appreciation for the efforts of all faculty and their commitment to ensure academic achievement.


  1. Creating both a culture of evidence and a culture of engagement

As all institutions examine areas for problem-solving and improvement, institutional research is required to ensure progression and continuity of a prosperous academic environment. Developmental areas will allow for routine faculty-friendly exchanges between institutional research members and faculty, which can empower the latter to be integrated into the processes of advancement of the college. Engaging faculty leaders in data collection and analysis is paramount for faculty to develop relevant and meaningful information that will cultivate resolutions for institutional concerns. Maintaining transparency of how data are collected and analyzed will allow faculty to understand its relevance to their work and collegiate involvement outside of the classroom. As this relevancy is presented, faculty will find an increase in their engagement holistically, prompting more interest in the well-being of their institution and them being a catalyst to such health and continuity.


  1. Providing resources, incentives, and recognition

As institutional leaders desire to engage faculty in programs or projects outside of the classroom, these leaders must realize the obstacles that prevent or discourage faculty from becoming more involved. Faculty workloads, task workload, and compensation policies tend to be the more common obstacles to faculty engagement in other areas of the campus. Administration must examine the provision of resources that will allow faculty to engage in high-caliber professional development activities such as conferences and certification attainment for both adjunct and full-time faculty. This is instrumental to faculty remaining current in their professional areas producing practical knowledge, which can be transferred to the classroom and to campus-wide projects. Providing resources for professional development demonstrates that institutional leaders believe in the development of their faculty and the importance of the outcomes gained from such activities to the campus as a whole.

Incentives such as release time and stipends are critical when needing and asking faculty to engage in projects that require large time commitments outside of the classroom. Such provisions will allow faculty to fully commit themselves to the initiative seeing it through to successful completion without it being considered a taxing, unwanted obligation. As faculty culminate their initiatives and projects, campus-wide recognition is essential to ensure that their efforts and achievements are appreciated. In addition, this allows other departments to see the contributions faculty members make to their institutions providing opportunities for these departments to use faculty in other capacities that will be beneficial to student development.


  1. Institutionalizing expectations and opportunities

Full-time and adjunct faculty bring a plethora of industry knowledge to their work, especially adjuncts as many of them are currently working in their field while teaching. Setting expectations of campus engagement is necessary during the hiring stage to alert faculty to the potential of them becoming involved in other facets of the campus, especially as their area of expertise warrants collaborations. The specialties faculty bring to their positions can be used in other functional areas of the college such as with the delivery of workshops, project planning, and serving on institutional committees. As faculty contribute more to their campus beyond serving in the classroom, more value is bestowed up them as their expertise is recognized and realized in beneficial ways to their institution. Using such venues like student award ceremonies, professional advisory council meetings, all-staff meetings, strategic planning meetings, and staff council committees are methods to give faculty recognition of student-institutional focused achievements to large campus-wide audience.


  1. Spanning silos and nurturing a college culture that is inquiry based, collaborative, and transparent

In many academic institutions, there is an “us versus them” mentality. This is mainly seen between full-time and adjunct faculty and faculty and institutional leaders. Administration needs to examine this paradigm to ensure that this mentality is eradicated. Focusing on adjuncts and full-time faculty working together in the classroom and on projects is essential for collaboration that culminates in learning experiences for both. Inter-department collaborations is an excellent way to have departments work in partnership with one another to solve issues and provide enhanced resources to students. As institutional leaders lay the foundation for campus conversations regardless of department or expertise area, this will allow for a more inquiry based, collaborative environment in which faculty and staff can integrate strategies that will prove impactful for the entire campus. In addition to creating collaborative strategies, the transparency of where information is derived and how it will be used is critical to ensuring all involved have an informed and active piece in the partnership.

Engaging faculty based on these five premises will lead to faculty who will lend their talent to support student success and retention. Institutional leaders must focus on establishing a culture that supports the integration of faculty in various campus functions. By setting this foundation, students will see the benefit of a supportive academic environment beyond the classroom that is encompassing a thoroughly prosperous educational experience.


Leadership that inspires engagement

The commonly used approaches to faculty engagement are not sufficient to substantially enhancing student attainment and retention and seek only to improve pedagogy. They focus on individual faculty members and their teaching methods and contributions to the classroom. So the challenge is not simply to increase teaching and learning, but to significantly enhance student attainment of degrees, which involves more successfully organizing and coordinating the areas of faculty commitment to increase student success rates, expectations shared with students about excelling in all course work, student support through various groups, early and timely feedback that is adjustable based on student needs, involvement of students and academic individuals in all facets affecting graduation, and learning from diverse professional and community entities that will support broader campus aspects affecting student progress. Initiatives to increase student attainment must generally be collective and organizational, involving leadership by presidents, deans, program-chairs, as well as by faculty groups.

Without leadership support for increased faculty engagement, student retention will not experience higher rates due to the lack of support of faculty toward overall student success in other areas outside of the classroom where student success benefits are present. In knowing this, institutional leaders must eliminate engagement obstacles and provide the time, opportunities, and financial resources as needed to place faculty in positions and roles to enhance their institutions.



Faculty are the linchpin to student success but need to be properly supported by their institutional leaders with engagement opportunities, incentives, additional time, and resources to use their talents in larger aspects for student benefit. All faculty are at the center of student success and not just as individual pieceworkers in increasingly large classrooms, but as a collective body engaged in various departmental and organizational initiatives to enhance student achievement. Along with academic administration, faculty must take the lead if substantial changes in the way for-profit colleges operate so that overall campus improvement strategies focused on retention and student success are practiced and institutionalized over a period of time and on a significant and continual scale.

Broader faculty engagement is required to realize higher levels of educational quality, student attainment, student retention, and student completion (Rhodes, 2012). The path to that broader engagement lies largely in institutional leaders addressing the changes and challenges that represent key aspects of the current context of for-profit education. After changes and challenges are recognized, improvement plans for faculty engagement are necessary to ensure it comes to fruition in ways that are optimal for the institution to establish an encompassing culture for faculty, staff, and students. The driving force behind this is student acclimation, retention, and successful degree completion. Engaged faculty on various levels of their institutions are critical to affecting positive change with student retention thus providing a foundation for student success and substantial graduation rates.



American Association of University Professors. (2011). The high price of for-profit colleges. Retrieved February 27, 2015 from http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/pubsres/academe/2011/MJ/Feat/yeom.htm?PF=1

Gappa, J.M., Austin, A.E., & Trice, A.G. (2007). Rethinking faculty work: Higher education’s strategic imperative. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Rhodes, G. (2012). Faculty engagement to enhance student attainment. National Commission of Higher Education Attainment. Retrieved February 28, 2015 from http://www.acenet.edu/news-room/Documents/Faculty-Engagement-to-Enhance-Student-Attainment–Rhoades.pdf

U.S. Department of Education, NCES (2010). Enrollment in postsecondary institutions: Fall 2008 graduation rates, 2002 & 2005 cohorts; and financial statistics, fiscal year 2008. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Wallin, D.L. (2005) Adjunct faculty in community colleges. Boston, MA: Anker Publishing


Dr. Michelle Meadors

Dr. Michelle Meadors is a business management professor at Westwood College, Northlake Campus. She holds a Bachelor’s in Business Administration , MBA, and a DBA in Organizational Leadership with approximately 10 years of higher education experience as a professor (traditional and online), curriculum developer, dissertation committee member, internship developer and coordinator, academic advisor, and student organization advisor. Dr. Meadors also has practical work experience in domestic and international markets, specifically in Central America and the Caribbean where she has conducted telecommunication acquisitions, market expansions, and branding reorganization.

Dr. Meadors’ research interests focused on student retention improvement strategies and diversity inclusion and improvement tactics for human resource management initiatives. Lastly, Dr. Meadors’ holds memberships in the OBTS Teaching Society of Management Educators, The Southern Management Association, and The Management Faculty of Color Association.

Contact Information: Dr. Michelle Meadors // Business Management Professor // Westwood College, Northlake Campus // mmeadors@westwood.edu

Dr. Reginald Turner

Dr. Reginald H. Turner is the President of Westwood College Northlake Campus. He is the Chief Executive Officer of the campus and responsible for the overall leadership, academic quality, staff, faculty, programs, and operational effectiveness, and growth of the campus. He is a Paul Harris Fellow Rotarian, a public speaker, trainer and certified Toastmaster. His civic involvement includes Boys & Girls Club, United Way, and Chamber of Commerce. He is a mentor, former Minister of Music and volunteer tutor to several students.

His awards include Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. International Collegium of Scholars, Mentor of the Year, Faculty of the Year, Staff of the Year, Administrator of the Year, Dean of the Year, Toastmaster’s Best Speaker and Evaluator, Rotarian of the Year and received Congressional Recognition from a Member of Congress for outstanding and invaluable service to the community.

Dr. Turner earned his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina, a Master’s degree from American Intercontinental University, and a Bachelor’s Degree from The University of Mississippi.

Contact Information: Dr. Reginald Turner // Campus President // Westwood College, Northlake Campus // RTurner02@westwood.edu


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