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Blog 3: What are we hearing about Access and Student Success?

Author: Alison Van Rooy, Senior Advisor for Strategic Planning and Institutional Initiatives

In this blog post, I'd like to reflect back to the VIU community some of the themes that are arising from our conversations about The Future We Want to See. In today's post, I share the first of three summaries of our campus conversations. This edition focuses on Deepening Access and Boosting Student Success -- two of the five themes shaping our strategic planning conversations this spring.

VIU is proud of its reputation as an open access university, and its students and employees shared stories of welcome to students who might otherwise have been excluded from post-secondary education. Attracted by a wide range of programs (including adult basic education), and opportunities to build on learning (“laddering”), we heard from students about the important range of measures VIU puts in place to broaden access. Welcoming recruitment and admissions employees, low tuition, financial help (though modest), easy application steps and support for students with differing abilities were all highlighted. At the same time, many potential students are still unable to access education. The pre-pandemic delivery mode (in person only) was one reason, as were challenges in course availability and timing (few/none on weekends and evenings). Suggestions were made to meet those challenges by building on the pandemic’s move online and expanding course availability and laddering. At a time and in a community where working people (including those temporarily not working) may be VIU’s greatest source of new students, some of those ideas may need close examination.

In VIU’s conversations about "Boosting Success," the single strongest theme has been connection. Students (and employees) overwhelmingly describe success as moments of personalized support in or outside the classroom, including (and especially) support among peers. That connection builds confidence, enthusiasm, attachment, and deeper learning – reinforcing existing strengths at VIU in providing high quality learning experiences. For a largely commuting student body, connection is especially valuable: when students did not feel connected, we heard stories of isolation and lack of belonging as drivers of mental health troubles. Many of the visions shared for VIU’s future had to do with connection: strengthening the practice of outreach, building a pedagogy of mental health, and providing deliberate spaces for students to be together to strengthen their sense of support and belonging.