University Presidents Share Perspectives on Student Success

By: Barry Telford
Jun 13, 2017 11:45 AM ET

The 2016-2017 edition of President to President, titled “Integrated Approaches to Student Living and Campus Housing—Enhancing Quality of Life and Performance,” focused on issues, trends and opportunities related to campus life. University presidents from around the country shared their views and experiences on the relationship between life on campus and student success, comfort, and performance. Key takeaways included the importance of student living, diversity and inclusion on campus, safety & security, student retention and fostering resiliency.

Student Living – One way to foster student success is through a positive experience on campus. Understanding and tailoring the campus living experience to the needs and wants of the various student populations can lead to a much more fulfilling experience, and ultimately student retention, but there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Take for example, Augsburg College — they created a special residential housing program called StepUP. The program, located on Augsburg’s main campus, helps students with a history of substance abuse champion lives of recovery, achieve academic success and thrive in a community of accountability and support.

Diversity & Inclusion – By their very nature, colleges and universities offer new opportunities and experiences for students to grow personally, intellectually and professionally. Universities that are committed to diversity and create an inclusive environment where students can openly share varying viewpoints, life experiences and perspectives initiate a starting point for greater understanding and acceptance. Therefore, it is imperative that campuses foster inclusive environments where all students feel valued, respected and celebrated. Drew University President MaryAnn Baenninger shared her personal story about diversity and inclusion on campus and called for campus leaders to serve as welcoming environments for their increasingly diverse student bodies.

Safety & Security – Another aspect that leads to student success is having a feeling of safety, comfort and security on campus.  Dr. Edward Ray, president of Oregon State University, shares how to combat a negative campus culture through programs focused on students’ safety and security. Oregon State University’s initiatives include the on-campus Alcohol, Drug and Violence Prevention Center, a Collegiate Recovery Community and programs like “Beavers Give A Dam,” which works in conjunction with the violence prevention department of Student Health Services. These programs increase awareness among Oregon State student athletes, members of Greek life, and the student government to proactively advocate for a safer student environment.

Student Retention – The result of student success is retention — a common goal for universities and institutions across the board. Meeting the needs of an evolving student population with differing backgrounds, priorities and expectations is a difficult responsibility that extends way beyond enrollment.  Because of this, universities are finding it increasingly necessary to prioritize student retention efforts and identify new and innovative strategies that serve students more effectively. Take for example the University of British Columbia’s Vancouver (UBC Vancouver) plan to build campus commons; the purpose of the commons is to create an updated living experience to foster relationships among students and faculty. This dynamic approach to create a living and learning environment includes building four commons that are all-inclusive with dining areas, exercise and study facilities, daycare services and outdoor spaces. The University of British Columbia’s example shows how focusing on the wellbeing of students paves the way for academic excellence and improves the student experience.

Student Resiliency – Another theme necessary for student success is teaching and promoting a resilient campus culture. The strongest institutions are those who can stand together in times of adversity. Even stronger institutions use their influence to help others in the community. An example of this is West Virginia University’s commitment to provide assistance to the Harper’s Ferry community following the aftermath of a devastating fire.

Going to college is not the same as being successful in college. Higher education faces complex issues when it comes to the recruitment and retention of students, so it is very important that students, faculty, staff and administrators identify strategies and tactics to ensure a positive student experience for everyone on campus. The themes presented in the President to President series underscore the importance of student living, diversity and inclusion on campus, safety & security, student retention and fostering resiliency. Investing in campus life promotes student success, comfort and performance.

Thanks to our editors, Dr. Scott D. Miller of Virginia Wesleyan University and Dr. Marylouise Fennell for curating such a rich collection of perspectives this year. Download all ten chapters of the President to President series at

Barry Telford is the CEO of Universities West for Sodexo North America and the President of Sodexo Canada. A strong advocate for the new performance frontier: Quality of Life, Mr. Telford believes that great performance is driven by strong, inclusive leadership based on family and community-centered values and a commitment to serve others.   Mr. Telford serves on the Board of the Sodexo Stop Hunger FoundationToronto’s Second Harvest and the Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business (CCAB).