It is easy to see yourself as constrained by a master builder rather than as an architect of the box that you chose to work within. I often feel as though I have no control over the rules and regulations that govern how I work as the transfer coach at my local community college. I am grant funded and I answer to a supervisor at my home institution as well as a grant director who is housed at another institution. Upon reflection, I have been privileged to assist in the creation and modification of several policies at my institution, within my grant, and at the state level.
At the state level, I represent my institution on the State Committee on Transfer (SCT), a group that is currently working with SCHEV to draft new policy in response to the state legislature’s mandate that transfer between public institutions be ‘fixed’ or made more efficient and less costly for students. While the legislature has not passed a law or written a statute directly governing transfer policy, they have issued a mandate to public institutions that the situation be resolved upon threat of new legislation. To avoid new laws being written, the SCT has been tasked with drafting policy and procedures that will fulfill the mandate while still allowing institutional flexibility. It is interesting to see how higher education institutions are choosing to craft their own policy, working together to align current practices that are often diametrically opposed, rather than submit to new legislation which they all agree would be more confining. Additionally, I find it fascinating that higher education institutions act much like individuals, wanting to be in charge of their fate, bemoaning their lack of power, and yet regularly choosing not to be involved in the process of governing themselves. For example, before I was the representative to the SCT, there were many state meetings where my institution was not represented and therefore not involved in crafting policy it had to abide by.
My position is funded by a generous grant from a charitable foundation and I was hired as the sole institutional representative at the beginning of the grant. The Pathways program is small, with only four full-time employees, all housed at different institutions. At the outset of the program, it was made clear to us that we were to act in an administrative, not legal, capacity, focusing on policy and leaving legal matters to the higher education and grant funding organizations’ legal teams. Beyond that, we were given few constraints within which to dictate the programs policies. While the idea of not worrying about legal matters seems freeing, it is important to note that we had multiple layers of both external and internal forces constraining our actions, including federal and state laws that govern all educational institutions.
External forces that guided all Pathways policy worked as boundaries within which we were able to create program policy. As we added students to our program, we encountered more external guides. When we began to work with foreign students, we had to adjust policy to abide by the Department of Homeland Securities policies on foreign students. When we began to offer stipends, we had to adjust program policy to follow federal and state guidelines on who can be paid for work and how this pay must be reported. The line between external and internal policy is blurry for the Pathways program. We are our own program, but we work within four institutions. Each of the four institutions involved in the Pathways program have different guidelines governing diversity, equity, and inclusion, all program policy must meet the guidelines at each of our institutions. The Pathways program itself now has customs and procedures that are not codified but that govern our daily work. Additionally, all policies set forth by the program must meet standards held by the grant funding organization. To this date, more than a year into the start of our program, we have set very few official published policies, preferring to rely on customs and usage, or common law.
The Pathways policies that are clearly articulated are going through a process similar to the six steps detailed by Kaplin and Lee (2014). We began by identifying potential issues within the program. Then we designed solutions that would address the issue while leaving the grant director freedom to interpret the policy liberally. Next, the grant director drafted a formal policy and the grant team edited it ruthlessly. The draft policy was taken to the Pathways program board made up of members from each institution and the funding organization. Once approval of the policy was granted, the policy was published and implemented. We are currently in the evaluation stage where we are collecting data to determine if the policy has any unforeseen adverse effects and if the intended goal of the policy has been reached. The Pathways program incorporates modifications based on the evaluation of the new policy into the policy process. Policy making is therefore a cycle rather than a linear progression with review and updates being viewed as necessary parts of the process. Pathways is lucky in that we are a small group and easily maneuverable.
Kaplin, W., & Lee, B. (2014). The law of higher education, 5th edition: Student version. Jossey-Bass.