Developing Shared Language and Knowledge in the CSU: Ground Your Campus’ Actions in Evidence and Research

By: Thad Nodine

March 2023

How does your CSU campus, your division, and your department stay informed about innovations throughout the CSU? How often do you and your colleagues make time to review and discuss new ideas and programming? How do you share your breakthroughs and advances with other campuses? 

The CSU Student Success Network (Network) produces original research briefs, memos and tips and strategies drawn from and directed specifically to the CSU to facilitate discussions and action on campus to advance equitable student success. A series of discussion questions at the end of most briefs and memos can facilitate faculty, staff, and administrators in meeting together to address implications for their campus. 

“Our applied research briefs and Knowledge Center memos help to develop shared language and knowledge about key issues that people are grappling with in the CSU,” said Dr. Madeleine Kerrick, research director at the Network and research and evaluation director at the Education Insights Center at Sacramento State. “Folks in the CSU are using our research in exciting ways, including sharing it and building from it, but we haven’t reached the critical mass that the CSU needs. We’re doing all we can to produce practical and action-oriented research, and we encourage middle leaders to share it with their peers and explore the implications for their department and campus.”  

In 2020 and 2021, for example, a Network research team examined how administrators and middle leaders on CSU campuses were responding to two pandemics: COVID-19 and racial injustice. Interviewees reported that they were communicating and collaborating extensively to address issues in each of these areas. The work involving COVID-19 tended to lead to rapid and radical actions on campuses, according to interviewees. The work involving equity, on the other hand, focused on discussions and planning, with significantly fewer actions reported.

Do these findings from the research brief resonate with your experiences on your campus: lots of quick actions in response to COVID-19 but less so around the challenges of increasing equitable student success? The researchers suggest that campuses might consider defining more precisely what they mean by equity, in order to facilitate action-oriented work. They also recommend that campuses “address equity with the same level of responsiveness and action-orientation with which they responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.” The brief closes with a series of “guiding questions for advancing campus equity conversations and action” in the CSU. 

“I’ve found the research produced by the \Network to be succinct, well-informed, and timely,” said Ellie Ertle, associate dean of undergraduate education at Chico State and a Network board member. “I use the Network’s Knowledge Center as a resource and I share its briefs and memos with coworkers. Also, I’ve suggested to the dean that we discuss memos at monthly leadership meetings.” 

According to Michelle Lopez, senior assistant dean for student success at San Diego State, “I appreciate learning from the free online resources in the Knowledge Center. The guiding questions and recommendations provided in the briefs and memos are also excellent to apply in my leadership role.” 

Other recent research and tips from the Network: 

  • The Network’s most recent brief challenges the CSU to continue to develop detailed plans to support campuses in long-term crisis management and disaster recovery. Too often in higher education, campuses focus on short-term disaster reactions rather than longer-term crisis management, according to the report’s author Dr. Shonda Goward, associate vice provost for undergraduate advising and success at San José State University and convenings director for the Network.
  • The most recent Tips and Strategies document, developed in response to the Network’s fall 2022 convening, provides specific suggestions as to the “why” and “how” of implementing equity strategies on your campus. The document focuses on the role of middle leaders in using data and metrics to build their case in implementing equity strategies. 
  • The Network has also released CSU-focused research on: leadership, transfer, administrative barriers, barriers to Black students, and advising

“The Network is led by middle leaders in the CSU who are working to create and support a culture of evidence-based learning and improvement throughout the system, on all campuses,” said Dylan Lohmeyer, the Network’s interim operations director. “Our research briefs, memos, and tips and strategies documents are providing evidence that all CSU campuses can benefit from. We hope that faculty, staff, and administrators will share these findings and explore the implications with their colleagues.”  

The Network is in its sixth year of creating opportunities for middle leaders in the CSU to come together to explore and share ways to improve equitable student learning on their campus. Campuses throughout the system have advanced their practices and programs based on the participation of middle leaders in the Network. Want to get involved? Contact us to let us know how we can help. Join our mailing list to stay on top of our research findings and events.