Building a successful pathway program

Late last year we celebrated the 20th anniversary of Griffith College. Located in Queensland, Australia, the College delivers foundation and diploma pathways to undergraduate degree programs for domestic and international students looking to study at Griffith University.

As we celebrated with former and current Navitas, Griffith College and Griffith University staff and students, we took the opportunity to reflect on our many successes and the challenges we’ve overcome along the way.

The history

Griffith College began in 1997. Originally known as the Queensland Institute of Business and Technology, our initial operation was small. In our first semester we had 97 students spread across four diploma programs and a Certificate IV program. By 2004, the student body had grown to over 1,000 students and by 2010 that number had expanded to more than 2,000.

Along the way we added seven new diploma programs and an associate degree, and expanded to two purpose-built sites on Griffith University’s campuses at Mount Gravatt in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast.

This year, the college will welcome hundreds more domestic and international students to our two campuses, adding to the almost 25,000 who have studied at Griffith College since we first opened our doors.

A constant focus on the student

The growth of Griffith College is something all our current and former staff are proud of, but the biggest source of pride in reflecting on our success over 20 years has been our absolute focus on student experience, student outcomes and student transition.

On average, 90-95 per cent of eligible college graduates have successfully transitioned to their university degree and we have consistently achieved student satisfaction rates above 80 per cent. In tracking our students once they progress to their university undergraduate programs we’ve seen they perform comparably on pass rates, completions and retention with their university counterparts who entered their degree directly. This is a ringing endorsement of the learning and teaching approach fostered by the college and embraced by our students throughout their time with us.

Overcoming challenges

But this success has not been without its challenges. Integrating two independent entities in a way that provides a seamless experience for students can be challenging. Broad understanding of the partnership, and how it benefits all involved, is key. Communication, advocacy, leadership and relationship building are core to helping all stakeholders feel confident about their contribution to the partnership. The university has always encouraged and supported the college, and provided opportunities for it to present its actions and outcomes to key personnel and governance bodies across its academic groups, giving staff at all levels a greater appreciation of the purposes of the college.

The college, too, welcomes all interested university stakeholders to visit the college, to participate in key committees and advisory bodies, and to attend special events, such as graduation celebrations. Examples of the close partnership include opportunities for co-presentation of special prizes and awards to high achieving students.

Beyond developing and fostering stakeholder understanding of the partnership, the work of designing academic programs and effective support mechanisms, and the continuous enhancement and evaluation of our learning and teaching approaches that allow college students the best chance of achieving their dreams, requires time and a deep commitment to understanding their needs. And we need to do all this while maintaining the integrity of the academic awards of both institutions.

The reality is that strong internal governance processes and open relationships pave the way for the partners to address challenges of any kind as they arise. Both parties place student outcomes at the heart of their collective drive to achieve solutions, whether they be about systems integration, program design, or student transition experiences.

Griffith University Vice Chancellor Professor Ian O’Connor meeting Griffith College
international students

Lessons and reflections

No two university partnerships are the same. However, from our own success and challenges there are some key things I believe are fundamental to achieving success.

First, we need a strong partnership between college and university with deep and wide involvement and commitment from all stakeholders. The respect and trust between Navitas and Griffith University has grown across the 20-year partnership. Our relationship is typified by genuine consultation and interaction across both academic and professional functions of both institutions on operational and strategic initiatives. The relationship is also one of transparency. Sharing of plans and outcomes is customary and we work together towards aligned objectives. When we have had changes in leadership and key staff in either partner, we have worked hard to maintain and build new successful relationships.

The decision to rebrand the college in 2015 and the associated decision to expand the college’s program and pathway offerings is a key example of how the partners have worked together effectively to make it possible for more aspiring domestic and international students to achieve a high-quality degree qualification. So much was achieved in such a short time span, and that is a testament to the commitment of both parties to a common goal.

The decision to extend pathway options to the Gold Coast campus of the university was another example of the partners’ commitment to achieving joint strategic outcomes. That decision involved the construction of an entirely new building on the Gold Coast campus, one the college now shares with the Griffith English Language Institute.

Second, we need the establishment of effective academic and operational governance and quality assurance structures. Our Academic Board was established at the outset, and as we grew, four Program Advisory Committees were established with responsibility for the oversight of our academic programs. Our broad operational governance framework, which is underpinned by our Joint Coordinating Committee, has helped ensure operational decisions are taken in the interests of existing and prospective students, but also in the interests of the university and Navitas.

Third, we need strong and well-integrated marketing and recruitment functions across all stakeholders. A tripartite synthesis of the university, the college and the broader Navitas network has allowed us to understand and articulate our unique offering and to determine how best to collectively build strong and sustainable growth and student diversity. It has also led to improvements in our pre-departure, orientation and transition processes which, naturally, contribute to an excellent student experience.

Greater collaboration between the parties was brought to life in our 2015 rebrand to Griffith College. It allowed us to integrate more closely with the university and cement the notion of the college as the best pathway to a Griffith degree. The initiative gained cut-through in the local and international markets; a clearer proposition provides prospective students with greater certainty around how together we can contribute to achievement of their aspirations.

As one of the earliest public-private pathway partnerships anywhere in the world (and the largest pathway provider in Queensland), Griffith College is a great example of what can be achieved when college and university work closely together. We can overcome challenges and use them to reset and rethink the opportunities for the future with common goals. We have much to be proud of but we also have clear plans for what we want to achieve in the future. Our 2018 relaunch of a Griffith University masters qualifying program, and our commitment to exploring other potential pathways and opportunities for deeper integration, exemplify how together we will continue to build the success of our college and our partnership.

About The Author

Leigh Pointon has been the College Director & Principal at Griffith College since April 2014. Prior to this appointment Leigh was the Director of Academic Programs & Student Services at Griffith College for 4 years, and held a range of academic leadership and teaching roles with the College, Griffith University, and the Queensland University of Technology (QUT). With more than 25 years’ experience delivering, managing and leading higher education within the university and private education sectors, Leigh has also acquired a considerable amount of experience teaching ESL students. Leigh currently sits on the Australasian Leadership Team of Navitas’ University Partnerships Australasian Division and is a member of the Steering Committee of the Forum for Chairs of Academic Boards of Non-University Higher Education Providers. She also co-authored Essential Academic Skills, published by Oxford University Press; a textbook targeted at preparing ESL and less educationally prepared students for tertiary education.

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