On Thursday September 20, the National Campus Leadership Council (NCLC) premiered the Student Voice Index. “NCLC cultivates, strengthens, and advances student leadership in higher education. We primarily engage student governments, providing skills, expertise, and networks to be effective community leaders and advocates.” This event focused on the members of the Student Voice Index sharing their views on how well colleges are effectively incorporating ‘student voice,’ meaning how well they listen to and incorporate student leaders in campus decision making.
Lindsey Templeton from University of Maryland shared her research on the concept of ‘student voice.’ Student voice is “Students’ agency to exercise, and institutional inclusion of, thoughts, ideas, and opinions in shared governance and related processes and environments that drive decision-making.” It was measured by access, role, empowerment, and influence. The NCLC collected data from over 200 student body presidents and publicly available information such as policies, procedures, and bylaws. Four key findings from analysis were “engagement with the governing board matters, no matter the role,” “speaking rights lead to stronger student voice,” “relationships with institutional leaders matter, particularly with the chief student affairs officer,” and “strong perception of influence leads to strong voice.”
After Templeton spoke the event transitioned to a panel who discussed student voice. It consisted of Valentina Fernandez, student body president at American University, Shamina Merchant, student body president of Ohio State University, and Dr. Merrill Schwartz from AGB Consulting. One of the panelists, Dr. Merrill Schwartz, said that the governing boards “… have an affirmative responsibility to reach out and get input from key campus constituencies and give voice to students in formulating policies and understanding the priorities and issues of the campus….” Fernandez said: “One of my personal biggest frustrations is when I see university leaders only seeking student input if the problem has the word ‘student’ in it.”
The panelists were asked about money, and Fernandez said: “I think there is an expectation- I’m paying and you know, beyond the hard skills that I should be able to graduate college with… I think there’s also ‘I need to make the most of my experience while I’m at college and part of that is making sure that I’m able to individualize it and shape it along the way.”
Dr. Schwartz believes that boards and policymakers should do something about the problem of some students not being able to fully pay for college. Schwartz also said that boards should have more women and minorities on them: “I think that boards need to look around the table, authorities need to consider ‘How does your board look and how does that reflect the communities you serve and do you have the voices at the table…”
Voting rights in the context of governing boards were discussed. Merchant said: “…Being in executive session and being able to steer the conversation and get it to the end product that the board ultimately votes on I think is the biggest important step.”
The director of NCLC, Andy McCracken, said, regarding student voice: “…We also know these lessons don’t stop at the campus level. We know that there’s an application at system level decision making. We know that there’s application at state level, there’s application at the federal level.” He said that NCLC had entered partnerships with American University and the University of Cincinnati. They are also collaborating with ACPA-American College Personnel Association and ACE-The American Council on Education. McCracken said close to the end: “…if there is nothing else that came out of this research I think it is really this idea that it’s really everyone’s responsibility to bring student voice to life.”