New Program Elevates Student Success in Higher Education

New Program Elevates Student Success in Higher Education

February 23, 2022

Amid an everchanging sociopolitical climate and a growing diverse student population, Colorado and the rest of the country are in dire need of education leaders and policy makers who are prepared to effectively advance institutions of higher education.

Dr. Elena Sandoval-Lucero (MA ‘95, PhD ‘04) is a clinical assistant professor in the SEHD who has served as vice president of student affairs and campus vice president at various Colorado community colleges. She has spent decades developing methods for education leaders to enact institutional change, with equity and social justice as focal points. She recognizes the urgency and readiness education leaders must possess to empower the coming generations of higher education students.

Sandoval-Lucero is bringing her equity-minded framework of student success and retention to the new MA in Leadership for Educational Organizations (LEO) concentration in Leading Change for Student Success in Higher Education.

A degree for change-makers

The new concentration takes five semesters to complete and is fully online. It is designed for individuals from higher education institutions, policy and research organizations, and governmental and nonprofit entities who are looking to transition into new roles within higher education. It was developed with the midlevel professional in mind. “They have obligations balancing their professional roles and families. An online degree is accessible to individuals all over the country and is ideal for working professionals and candidates who find evening in-person classes logistically challenging,” said Sandoval-Lucero.

The degree is not solely limited to education majors. “You can have any undergraduate experience,” she added. “Most emerging professionals gain experience as student employees on campus or find themselves involved in student life or student government. Upon graduation they often find entry-level positions in housing, advising, admissions, or orientation. Whether they majored in history, political science, business, or psychology, if they want to move up and take a leadership role in higher education, they need a master’s degree.”

The program’s online classes use highly interactive instructional design principles that contribute to engaging and motivational student experiences. The curriculum integrates current issues with historical, philosophical, and theoretical foundations to help candidates discover, explore, and effect change in higher education and related organizations.

Lynx Center Student Engagement Coordinator Duy Tran and Jessica Luna, graduate student in the doctor of education program.

Access is simply not enough

According to Sandoval-Lucero, the higher education retention models are shifting toward a more robust focus on student success and degree completion. “It’s about the institution meeting students where they are and taking them where they need to be,” she said.

Student success is not simply providing access to tutoring and resource centers. To Sandoval-Lucero, it ultimately comes down to the connection and belonging that is developed by valuing the assets students bring with them to the college experience. “If we focus on an asset-based framework of student success, achievement increases and outcomes improve,” she noted. Higher education institutions need leaders with innovative perspectives on what it means to be an equitable organization, how to engage diverse student populations, and advocate for social justice.

A step above the rest

According to Sandoval-Lucero, this new program sets itself apart from other national higher education degree programs not only by creating a model for student success but also by “looking at what future higher education leaders need to know. Higher education is not separate from what’s going on in the world, our communities, and in our regions. The program looks at the greater higher education context and how that impacts education leaders’ work.”

Through this specialized degree, students will learn to evaluate the cultural, governmental, and sociopolitical influences of higher education in America and internationally, and critically analyze educational policy and structures that lead to inequitable campus environments. They will also investigate intentional leadership practices for responsive change. Graduates will be highly prepared to provide culturally informed, equity-focused leadership and pursue a wide range of roles within educational organizations, including student affairs, academic affairs, and diversity and inclusion roles.

This article was written by Serwaa Adu-Tutu, marketing coordinator for the School of Education & Human Development. It was originally featured in the school’s Edge Magazine.