A Critical Divide in Higher Education: Bridging the Gap between Student Success and Organizational Leadership

By Wyatt, Kathyleen Gamble | Distance Learning, January 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

A Critical Divide in Higher Education: Bridging the Gap between Student Success and Organizational Leadership


Wyatt, Kathyleen Gamble, Distance Learning


INTRODUCTION

his article is based on research conducted by this author (Wyatt, 2016) concerning the challenges involved in optimizing student success in a 4-year degree program. The study confirms the perceptions presented in the District Effectiveness Report, by Bowers (2010), who focused on the roles, practices, and leadership models used in successful schools. Specifically, the research agrees with the conclusion that those factors correlate to student success and also provides insights into the innovative use of the information for practicing stakeholders.

What is the perception of an effective leader and his or her influence on student success? Analysis of the literature revealed an indirect correlation between organizational leadership and student success. As stated by Lin (2012), "Improving principal leadership is a vital component to the success of educational reform initiatives that seek to improve whole-school performance, as principal leadership often exercises positive but indirect effects on student learning" (p. 2). The literature reviewed also showed a positive correlation between effective organizational leadership and effective teaching and learning (Hulpia, Devos, & Keer, 2011). The most successful correlations involved students, staff, and community resources.

BACKGROUND AND JUSTIFICATION

It has been observed that the top-ranked schools have leaders that are respected, appreciated, considered experts in running the program, and genuinely care about the students and their staff (Wyatt, 2016). Wyatt (2016) also duly observed that schools in the bottom of the rankings experienced a significant amount of condescension among leaders as well as staff dissatisfaction. This was reflected in the staff's inability to provide exceptional service to students and their lack of leadership commitment to student engagement, retention, and success.

Reliable and valid measurability of the correlation between leadership and student success, however, is a major concern. If a leader rates highly on a leadership assessment survey, is it safe to assume the level of student success directly correlates with the leadership success rate and vice versa? In spite of measurability issues, one positive and coherent theme that warrants further study is the correlation between distributed leadership and student success in the United States and abroad. The role played by instructors in contributing to the relationship between leadership and student success is another variable that should be examined. In addition, determining the extent to which the interconnectedness of a systemwide organization allows member-leaders to effectively work together to influence individual student success should also be studied (Bowers, 2010).

DEFICIENCIES IN THE EVIDENCE

According to Bowers (2010), research on the relationship between high-performing schools and effective administration should not just address a direct correlation between the credentials of school district leaders and the performance of its students. Several other factors could play a role in the achievement of student success, such as school demographics and manipulation of the accountability system. Bowers also asserted that organizational management effectiveness on school improvement measures showed substantial error, which biased the estimate of its impact toward zero. Subsequently, Grissom and Loeb (2011) recommended additional research to refine the measurement tools of leadership in higher education in addition to determining, describing, and streamlining the factors of a leader and the leader's correlation to student success.

Student success, as described by the American Federation of Teachers Higher Education (2011), is broader than degree attainment or high standardized test scores; it is the achievement of the student's own educational goals and, importantly for this article, the percentage of students in the 4-year college study site who remain in school, increase their mean GPA and, thus, eventually graduate or choose to transfer to another institution of higher learning (Wyatt, 2016). …

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