Universities have historically been trusted institutions and pillars in the communities they call home. Early 20th century University of Wisconsin President Charles Van Hise articulated the university’s commitment to its community when he noted that he could “never be content until the beneficent influence of the university reaches every family in the state,” a commitment shared by countless institutions of higher education then and now. But according to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, we are in the midst of a global crisis of trust in institutions ranging from governments and media to businesses and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
The Importance of Building Trust for Universities
Here are five things universities can do now to build and retain the trust of their stakeholders, from prospective students and faculty to alumni, donors and legislators.
1. Embrace Transparency
There’s nothing quite as refreshing as honesty. And for a university, honesty comes in many forms, including an accurate accounting of student outcomes, the impacts of faculty’s teaching and research, your institution’s continuous improvement efforts, and your progress toward strategic goals.
It’s easy to point to the successes of rock-star students and faculty, but don’t just rely on the easy stories. With current and complete data, you can surface accurate, authentic and often hidden examples of substantive contributions to scholarship and student success. You can also demonstrate the ways institutional decisions and faculty activities influence student outcomes. When Radford University looked at faculty’s high-impact practices, it noted the expected high level of service learning opportunities offered in the Social Work department—but also found a surprising amount of service learning in the English department. Learn more about Radford’s use of data to demonstrate faculty influence on student success.
Don’t limit information about things like faculty qualifications and student outcomes to accrediting bodies; sharing it widely allows you to both celebrate successes and identify areas for improvement—then show what you’re doing to move the needle. Take a look at how Rochester Institute of Technology and Hutchinson Community College share their assessment information online and here.
2. Share Stories of Impact
Share the impact of your university’s work with specific stories of the individuals and communities they touch. At many universities, schools of business, education and agriculture take the lead on reporting impact, as it’s required for accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) and is part of the mandate for land-grant institutions.
Report on assessment, faculty activity and other campus data to surface the impact of undergraduate research and other high-impact practices on student outcomes. They can also help you surface authentic, accurate stories of how your university’s work is making a difference in your community and the world.
3. Embody Your Ideals
Mission statements and strategic plans map out the ideals of your institution; the daily activities on your campus demonstrate your commitment to those stated ideals. It’s easy to point to an award or grant when received, but are you telling the story in real time? Learn how Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions uses campus data in an “appreciative inquiry” process to measure the holistic student experience.
Student and faculty activities are a window into the daily efforts made across your institution to live up to your stated priorities. They demonstrate the individual efforts and accomplishments that add up to achieving your mission. For example, Fayetteville State University and Utah State University share their success in achieving a strategic goal of continuous improvement.
Use your campus data to capture moments as they happen and share works in progress. The results can be powerful. Take a look at how Indiana University Bloomington surfaces and shares student stories in real time.
4. Raise Your Community Profile
Navigate the current post-trust landscape by amplifying the voices of students and employees rather than speaking as a monolith. For universities, that means placing students and faculty front and center in your relationship with your local community. Use campus data to highlight faculty doing work that’s relevant and useful to your municipality, county and state as well as student work that benefits people locally and across the globe. Learn more about how Purdue University measures its impact on the citizens of Indiana and shares those stories.
5. Get Social
Edelman’s research discovered that people find an organization’s social media more trustworthy than their advertising. Your website and ads remain valuable, but your authentic stories, shared on social media, may have more credibility with prospective students, faculty and donors. Many universities now share a wide range of stories on social media, from student profiles to progress on strategic initiatives such as sustainability and experiential learning.
The data in your campus systems is a rich well of material that reveal your university’s unique accomplishments and impacts. Tap your professors who demonstrate innovative teaching practices, seek out unique student success stories or look for faculty serving a campus sustainability program to get a window into a specific campus initiative.
Your authentic voice matters, so keep the social in social media—encourage and sustain conversations that reveal your university’s true character. Take a look at the social media best practices of institutions including University of Alabama, Louisiana State University, Oregon State University Pennsylvania State University, and the University of Texas at Austin.
“As other institutions falter in dispiriting succession, universities nurture the hopes of the world: in solving challenges that cross borders; in unlocking and harnessing new knowledge; in building cultural and political understanding; and in modeling environments that promote dialogue and debate,” then Harvard President Drew Faust reminded the Royal Irish Academy at Trinity College in 2010.
Is your university looking for fresh ways to share your stories and build trust with prospective students and faculty as well as donors and legislators? Contact us for a consultation on how educational intelligence software can help.
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