Aboriginal higher learner success factors at vancouver community college

Recommendation 2: Senior Leadership Commitment

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Recommendation 2: Senior Leadership Commitment

Control and authority within VCC is held primarily by the Board, the President, Senior Leadership, Administration, Educational Deans, the CUPE union, the Faculty Association, and the Student Union, none of which include Aboriginal representation. Although the long-term goal would be to have Aboriginal representation in all of these areas, recognizing the hierarchical nature of post-secondary institutions it is recommended that the President and senior leadership initiate this aspect of transformation within the current strategic planning process. This is very important when, as Kotter (1996) asserted,

Major change is said to be impossible unless the head of the organization is an active supporter. In successful transformation, the president . . . plus another five, fifteen, or fifty people with a commitment to improve performance pull together as a team. (p. 6)

It is important to note that Kotter cautioned that failure “is usually associated with underestimating the difficulties in producing change and thus the importance of a strong guiding coalition, particularly when firms have little history of transformation” (p. 7), as is the case with VCC.

The following are sub-set recommendations that support leadership commitment at all levels throughout the College to support Aboriginal higher learners by: ensuring Aboriginal representation on the VCC Board, establishing an Aboriginal Education Council, establishing a standing position for an Aboriginal student leader within the Student Union, enhancing the staffing levels of the AES department, and enhancing the authority of the Director of AES.

Ensure Aboriginal Representation on the VCC Board

This institutional influence must also be supported by ensuring Aboriginal representation on the VCC Board who through awareness of ALMD priorities can influence structural, political and symbolic changes through strategic priorities, system, policy, and process changes. This is a “key approach to ensuring Aboriginal input into colleges’ and institutes’ planning processes is through Aboriginal representation on college and institute Boards of Governors” (ACCC, 2005, p. 51). This will ensure that despite political changes in government and institutional leadership, the long-term goals of ALMD remain a priority, and considerations for culturally informed implementation are undertaken.

Continue VCC’s Aboriginal Education Council

In order to sustain the work of the Consortium, it is recommended that the sub-committee that formed in 2010 to guide the VCC Aboriginal Art Acquisition be supported in approving their Terms of Reference, proposed September 9, 2010, to continue as VCC’s Aboriginal Education Council, with a direct relationship to the Board of the College. This goal is consistent with the VCC First Nations Learner Support Mechanisms Policy (as cited in VCC, 1994) that has not yet been activated.

Establish a Standing Position for an Aboriginal Student Leader

It is also recommended that the Student’s Union of VCC establish a standing position for an Aboriginal student leader who can increase awareness of the needs and interests of Aboriginal learners and act as a role model at VCC through participation in the Unions Board and General Meetings. Within leadership development, a closer relationship between the Aboriginal Education and Services Department and the Student Union would be mutually beneficial on related initiatives such as role models, awareness, advocacy, peer tutoring, and mitigating racism.

Enhance Staffing Levels of the AES Department

Enhance staffing levels of the AES department, which is currently operating at below required permanent staffing levels as indicated by the focus group feedback. This service gap will only continue to grow as the Aboriginal population and Aboriginal learners at VCC continue to growing. Insufficient staffing will negatively affect Aboriginal learner recruitment.

Short-term funding from the ALMD Aboriginal Service Plan pilot project has supported the short-term enhanced staffing of the AES Department with one additional Aboriginal Advisor, and two part-time Elders who serve not only students, but also build the capacity of faculty. This short-term increased staffing has contributed to the increased participation of 107 Aboriginal learners in 2008/09 and doubled the number of Aboriginal graduates from 1% to 2% in the same year. The ideal permanent staffing levels include three Aboriginal Advisors and two resident Elders, which is consistent with the minimum staffing levels of post-secondary institutes who are leaders in Aboriginal education in BC.

Enhance the Authority of the AES Director

Enhance the authority of the Director to support influence and decision making within the VCC system. A great deal of progress has been made through social influence to support Aboriginal learners: “Individuals alone, no matter how competent or charismatic, never have all the assets needed to overcome tradition and inertia expect in very small organizations” (Kotter, 1996, p. 6). This is particularly important when, currently, the AES department is disempowered by the previous and new organizational structure that marginalizes the authority and voice of Aboriginal leaders within the institution.

With leadership commitment, empowering the AES department can be achieved by examining best practices, as outlined by the ACCC (2005), where other leading colleges in BC have demonstrated structural alignment that could easily be adopted by VCC:

The administrators and staff of Aboriginal service areas or departments at mainstream institutions also have a role in facilitating the planning and development of Aboriginal programs and services. These service areas or departments are responsible for liaising with First Nations regarding program and service development, and as the respondent from Camosun College indicated, “the First Nations Education and Services (FNES) Chair acts as the internal voice of the Aboriginal community.” In the case of institutions with Aboriginal advisory structures in place, the administrators of these departments are also responsible for supporting and seeking the input of these structures for program and service development and renewal. In some institutions, the administrators of these departments report directly to the Vice President Academic and have a voice at the Academic Management table. (ACCC, 2005, p. 54)

These combined second-level strategies are intended to influence four important levers for enacting change: senior leadership and accountability, vision and buy-in, building capacity, and leveraging resources to help implement organizational change” (Williams et al., 2005, p. 21) that support the success of Aboriginal learners. These second-level strategies will influence

the traditional values, norms, and structures found in higher education [that] are barriers to realizing the benefits of inclusive excellence and must be undone for these efforts to become a sustainable reality on campuses. A new organizational culture will only become a reality if campus leaders understand all of the relevant dimensions of organizational behaviour. (p. 31)

The lack of representation on any of these levels of leadership within VCC will negatively affect the ability of the college to commit to ALMD priorities and support the evolving needs of Aboriginal learner to succeed.

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