In higher education, we all have bosses. Even the college or university president reports to a board. We all have someone to please, someone who reviews and approves our work. And assuming that the institution you work for has strong leaders in its upper-level administrative positions, that's a good thing. Yet, lost in our efforts to please our higher-ups and satisfy numerous constituencies at once is that we risk losing sight of who we ultimately serve...
In the pressurized field of college admission, it's easy to become consumed by budgets, deadlines, travel schedules, hitting that perfect number and adhering to a prescribed institutional image. It's easy to forget how little prospective students care about any of those things - except for the deadlines, hopefully. It's easy to resist the urge to push the envelope for fear of how an invested observer might react. It's easy to forget that we do what we do in order to convince prospective students to become invested in our schools.
There is a terrific article in The Chronicle of Higher Education discussing the college viewbook and how it is evolving at many institutions to become more student-friendly and more sustainable in an era of rapidly developing technology. In it, the College of William & Mary's ampersandbox is highlighted as an example of an innovative approach to the typical admission publication. The distinct style of the piece is designed specifically to appeal to prospective students, and the College refused to compromise on that style to appease other audiences.
In an unexpected way, this article reminded me how important it is to be a voice for students. It's easy to remember this when reviewing applications and going through the admission process, but the facility wanes when attention is diverted to other projects. But whether it be a viewbook, a website, a new program or a new strategy, everything we work on needs to done with students in mind. That something is too difficult or requires too much effort, that something strays too far from the norm or is too risky are not acceptable excuses when an opportunity exists to engage in relate-able discourse with students.
William & Mary is a great place to work for many reasons - I would know - prominent among them are both the creative passion and institutional support that make something like the ampersandbox possible. These are elements that higher education professionals must demand of their colleagues and their work environments. These are elements that are essential to our abilities to do well in our vocations and do good for our students. After all, creativity, passion and the desire to do well and good are qualities we must demand of our students.