From the Editor: Building Institutional Capacity for Student Success

In many respects, an institution of higher education acts as a municipality. A college or university requires complex physical infrastructure to support students, faculty, and staff in their day-to-day activities. Equally critical is the broader infrastructure for student learning: the network of possible modes of movement from a series of entry points to a range of endpoints. Like commuters in a metropolis, students aspire to travel from their own points of origin to their own destinations, moving along distinct paths toward their personal goals for work, life, and citizenship.

Too often, students find themselves stalled on these journeys. Their paths may be unexpectedly blocked, their travel slowed by unexpected maintenance, their progress delayed by gridlock. Standing in place is not an option, nor is moving ahead by forcibly lifting their bootstraps. The challenge, then, is for higher education as a whole—and for each college and university—to implement a range of programs and practices that fully support students’ success. These approaches may begin on familiar pathways, but they must help students advance along yet-unimagined avenues and allow them to experience their odysseys in novel ways.

Building such a system will entail effort at every level, from the individual to the institutional. It will also require keen attention to issues of equity, with a focus on both the educational experience and the student’s destination, in the workplace and in life. It will involve weighing the benefits and risks of a focus on efficiency, and will require committing fully to ensuring that all students experience the promise of a liberal education. Within municipalities, effective civic leaders consider the social consequences of new commuter options—who has access to the newest rail lines, who can afford to live in areas with the best transit access, and whose route is the safest and most personally rewarding. Similarly, effective educational leaders must ask tough questions about which students their efforts serve, and how effectively.

In that vein, this issue of Diversity & Democracy suggests a range of approaches to building institutional capacity for student success. Collectively, contributing authors describe leadership and innovation at a variety of levels, from the individual to the cultural to the infrastructural. They point to the critical role of both academic and social supports, and they honor students’ abilities to guide their own journeys. They call on readers to seek new routes toward student success at their own institutions, to become leaders within their own contexts, and to build strong frameworks for student advancement.

This issue’s authors are among the many who have guided the path of this publication since I began editing it in early 2007. As I write my final editor’s note for Diversity & Democracy, I can’t help but reflect on the past decade and on the hundreds of authors—educators and students, faculty and administrators—who have applied their expertise to map this publication’s route. I have truly been honored to work with so many higher education leaders who see liberal education as essential preparation for life in a diverse democracy, and who strive to build colleges and universities that reflect that democracy in all its diversity. With our next issue, Diversity & Democracy’s new editor, Emily Schuster, will take the lead in guiding this publication’s path forward. I look forward to seeing where she leads us.

I hope that this issue of Diversity & Democracy can serve as a modest paver or pylon in readers’ efforts to build institutions with the complex infrastructure needed to guide all students equitably along their individual higher education journeys. As has long been argued in this publication’s pages, ensuring that all students achieve their greatest potential is crucial to the future of our diverse democracy. 

—Kathryn Peltier Campbell
Editor, Diversity & Democracy


Kathryn Peltier Campbell is the editor of Diversity & Democracy.

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