For the past 15 years, the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) has worked to advance the effectiveness and professional satisfaction of faculty, maintaining that faculty are the lifeblood of any institution of higher education. As one of the longest running projects at HGSE, COACHE’s surveys, seminars, and workshops have helped guide leaders at more than 300 colleges, universities, and systems and consortia in the United States and Canada to retain and better utilize their faculty, enhancing their work lives and ensuring an intellectually vibrant and diverse campus.
By enhancing faculty satisfaction and improving their effectiveness, COACHE helps colleges and universities build and maintain an intellectually vibrant campus.
“The key need that COACHE fills in higher education is to gather, in a rigorous and systematic way, data that then can be shared with campus leadership so everyone can do their jobs better — next week, next month, and next year,” said Professor Richard Light, former chair of the COACHE Faculty Steering Committee.
Starting with a report on faculty development and diversity in 2008, COACHE has sought to contextualize data so leaders can take specific action to improve the experience of faculty. Now a research-practice partnership, COACHE works with administrators to help understand how aspects of the faculty experience like gender, work-life balance, and mentorship impact job satisfaction — all data that are of immediate interest and impact to higher education administrators and policymakers. Importantly, as a collaboration, COACHE brings together not only researchers, but creates a space for higher education leaders to convene and learn from one another.
COACHE Director Kiernan Mathews has long been an advocate for faculty and enabling diversity in higher education, studying everything from the higher education childcare crisis to the experiences of midlevel associate professors. As the pandemic shifts the higher education landscape, his work can provide valuable insight as to how institutions can support, collaborate with, and maintain their faculty in these trying times.
“Campus by campus, provost by provost, dean by dean, chair by chair and even professor by professor, COACHE and its partners have been building a new academy, one that is more diverse, inclusive, equitable and humane," Mathews says.
A COACHE survey issued in 2011–2012 in collaboration with over 200 colleges and universities across the United States left researchers and academic leaders with a series of “Benchmark Best Practices,” including the insight that institutions with the greatest concentration of happy teachers were those that clearly communicated expectations for teaching from the earliest moments of a faculty member’s affiliation.
Operating with equity in mind, COACHE has continued to seek out innovative and collaborative ways of gathering and interpreting data. In 2016, COACHE launched a faculty exit survey — the first of its kind — with the office of the president at the University of California, the results of which have been used to inform and understand the causes of faculty mobility and make smarter investments around retention. Recently, they have launched initiatives to look at expanding opportunities for Historically Black Colleges and Universities to engage in the collaborative.
“Universities have lots of data, but what they need is more meaning,” Mathews explained, “and greater meaning comes from better collaboration.” He underscores that this collaboration would not have been possible without COACHE's commitment to equity and inclusivity in higher education.
"Our progress on racial and gender equity in the professoriate is owed to our sustainable, person-centered model. Relationships lead to trust, and on that foundation we will be supporting college leaders to interrogate and dismantle broken systems." – Emily Boudreau