The Challenges and Opportunities of iPASS Reform

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This past spring I have had the privilege of facilitating change leadership training with groups of faculty and staff at 11 iPASS institutions. Over the course of my visits I have been inspired by the dedication and commitment of the iPASS grantees to challenge the status quo in order to pursue innovative approaches to improve student success. The opportunity to experience diverse campus cultures, unique institutional challenges, and different visions for iPASS has afforded me a chance to reflect on some key aspects of what it means to pursue technology-mediated advising reform through iPASS.

iPASS is more than just another initiative with defined boundaries and structures. iPASS requires an integration of technology, advising reform, and change leadership in such a way that the student experience and therefore the institution as a whole is transformed. Four common themes emerged from my visits that are indicative of the challenges and opportunities that institutions encounter when truly pursuing iPASS reform: communication, capacity and resources, maintaining momentum, and collective power.


As with the majority of organizations and institutions in higher education, there are consistent concerns and challenges in communicating messages broadly and across different stakeholder groups. While this is not a challenge unique to iPASS, the importance of clear, broad, and transparent communication for transformative institutional change cannot be understated. iPASS requires not just communication between IT and advising but across the entire institution, including faculty, staff, and students. This means that many institutions are having courageous conversations about current and past communication techniques and identifying gap areas.

Questions I have heard institutions discuss:

  • How do we co-construct and communicate a shared vision of this transformation broadly?
  • How can we connect the purpose of iPASS to the larger institutional mission and student success agenda so that everyone is on the same page about the purpose and benefit?
  • How can we get above the “noise” and multitude of informative emails that staff and faculty receive?
  • Who needs to be at the table in order to ensure that the message and method of communication accounts for diverse stakeholders?

Capacity and Resources

Another consistent topic (perhaps unsurprisingly) has been the concern about capacity and resources as a barrier to generating true buy-in for the reform work. Initiative fatigue and workload are commonly cited as areas of frustration when taking on a new project. Many institutions are discussing what it means to have a culture in which it is not an option to let go of old initiatives that do not have the impact they were hoping for or saying no to new initiatives that do not align well.

Institutions engaged in iPASS are also confronted with questions of strategic alignment when facing capacity and resource issues:

  • While we can recognize the impact of over-worked and under-resourced institutions on staff and faculty, what do we need in order to have permission to let go or say no?
  • How can we strategically leverage iPASS to spur transformative change within the institution’s student success agenda?

Maintaining Momentum

A common concern raised in our sessions is about how to maintain momentum for iPASS when there is likely a new intervention around the corner. iPASS may be the hot topic right now, but what will happen in a couple of months when senior leadership may need to pivot to the next big initiative? The answer may be in the way in which institutions can align iPASS with the larger student success agenda. If there is a cohesive student success agenda and initiatives such as iPASS can be aligned with it, the momentum that continuously feeds the student success agenda should continue to carry the iPASS work, too.

As a result, institutions are pursuing questions like these:

  • How can we align iPASS to the strategic plan and mission of the institution so that it is more than just another initiative? Does it require different people at the table?
  • What visual could we create to capture the alignment across initiatives and convey the vision for student success at the institution?
  • What structures, workflow, or communication mechanisms do we need to support alignment across initiatives and silos?

Collective Power

The closing activity in the Kotter Change Essentials training I facilitated at the 11 colleges asks participants to share one action they will take to advance iPASS. Many commit to being an ambassador and sharing the project with peers. Others talk about a commitment to follow through on creating a mapped vision of student success. Celebrating short-term wins and recognizing small contributions to the larger mission is another common action.

This closing activity is in some ways the best part of the training because it emphasizes the idea of creating a collective force that understands and is committed to the success of the project. Many times I have heard individuals say that they were resistant to the project prior to the training but will now be more open to the change or will commit to learning more and being an advocate.

Conclusion: The Importance of Alignment and Change Leadership

Each Change Essentials session involved 24 individuals, and at its conclusion institutions must ask themselves: What methods can be used to foster and spread the energy gained in this session? What story should those who participate in the session tell their peers?

In thinking about these questions from my visits to iPASS institutions, one underlying theme that emerged is the need to tie iPASS to a cohesive, branded, and understood student success agenda.

Several institutions are creating visuals of student success work on their campus as a starting place for aligning iPASS and other initiatives under one meaningful umbrella. Below you can see examples from Seattle Colleges and Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (stay tuned for a blog post about their alignment efforts). It seems that this approach has the greatest potential to address communication issues, fostering understanding about capacity and resources, maintaining momentum, and harnessing collective power. This is clearly an important next step for institutions to take in order to pursue iPASS or any transformative student success reform.

Seattle Colleges

Seattle Colleges Action Steps
Seattle Colleges District-wide Student Success Initiatives

Northeast Wisconsin Technical College

Northeast Wisconsin Technical College Purpose of Pathways Framework

Related Posts

Read related iPASS posts [].

Mei-Yen Ireland is Associate Director for Data and Technology for Student Success at Achieving the Dream and is the project lead for Achieving the Dream's initiative that provides strategic assistance to iPASS grantees. Follow her on Twitter @MeiYenIreland.