Leading the Senior Team:
Curriculum to Make Change

Urgency for sustained, measurable improvement in college student success has never been greater.

Declining state funding, increasing student debt, diminishing public trust in higher education, and rapidly changing demographics and enrollment contribute to this urgency. Meanwhile, on community college and four-year college and university campuses, energy has intensified to close persistent equity gaps that harm Black, Latinx, and Indigenous students and those from low-income backgrounds.

Against this backdrop, many college presidents are eager to accelerate student success and equity reforms. When the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation brought together a group of its grantees—higher education leaders committed to advancing equitable student success—and asked how we could help presidents accelerate transformation, one answer emerged above all others: Advance their understanding of how to activate and coalesce their senior teams.

This conclusion emerged from several observations: 

  • Colleges that make the greatest advances in student success and equity integrate reforms across the entire institution—not in siloes— and their senior team models and drives that scale and integration.
  • President and provost turnover are at historic levels—sustaining reforms across transitions requires broad senior team ownership and understanding of the reform strategy alongside associated goals and data.
  • Transformation requires changes in culture, operations, and resource allocation, which takes a significant amount of time—this, in turn, depends on a focused, talented, and cohesive senior team. 
From this conversation came 18 months of work culminating in the publication of this curriculum. Learn more and access the curriculum below—and please reach out to Millicent Bender (millicent.bender@aspeninstitute.org) if you have any questions or are interested in getting support in implementing this curriculum on your campus.
Why use this curriculum?
This curriculum is designed to help presidents and their teams meet the following learning goals:
  • Understand the role that the composition of the cabinet plays in advancing student success.
  • Assess the composition of the current cabinet against attributes of transformational leaders and discuss how those attributes align to the needs of the institution.
  • Presidents only: Consider three key roles in the cabinet for transformation and allow presidents time to reflect on the attributes of these roles in their leadership teams.
  • Determine actionable next steps to build common understanding of purpose within the cabinet and throughout the institution.
  • Reflect on the role of collaboration within the cabinet and determine actionable next steps to better foster collaboration within the team.
  • Determine actionable next steps that the cabinet can take to improve implementation of the institution’s reform work.
How to use this curriculum?
This set of curricular materials provides agendas and materials for two types of delivery: presidents-only, or presidents with their senior teams.

The sample agenda embedded in the customizable participant guide for the presidents-only version assumes three half-day sessions, while the team version includes three sessions (an introductory session for presidents only, followed by two half-day sessions with the full team). The curriculum can be delivered virtually or in-person.

Each module contains findings from the research, a set of tools participants can use to assess their cabinet’s needs and consider what changes might be made, and small group discussion activities and prompts to deepen and apply learning. The curriculum also includes a Case Study and accompanying discussion questions.

Each version of the curriculum, presidents only and presidents plus teams, includes:
  • A customizable Participant Guide Word Doc, with a brief overview of the work and a suggested agenda
  • A Participant Tools PDF, with interactive activities, assessments, and resources that map to the agenda
  • A Facilitator Guide, with an overview of the process from your view and suggestions for session Pre-Work
  • A PowerPoint deck that can be used for curriculum delivery, small group activity directions and suggested times
The development of these curricular resources was made possible by generous support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Contact us for more information.
Millicent Bender, Director