By: Nancy Chick, Ph.D. Assistant Director, Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching

This blog post was originally published on June 18, 2014. See:

Vanderbilt hosted the fourth annual Institute on High-Impact Practices and Student Success, sponsored by the American Association of Colleges & Universities (AAC&U), from June 17-21, 2014. On the opening night, the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching (CFT) Director Derek Bruff and I attended the plenary session, along with the 220 participants from as far away as the Marshall Islands and as close as Chattanooga.  A common theme among the AAC&U’s plenary speakers was “equity-mindedness,” or “awareness of and proactive willingness to address [one's] institution’s equity and inequity issues” (AAC&U Statement). [Editor’s Note: The term “equity-mindedness” as used here was developed by the Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education.] We hear the word “equity” far less often than its cousins (e.g., “diversity,” “inclusion,” “tolerance”), but the plenary speakers and accompanying conversations reminded me of its significance. Read the rest of this entry »

During a recent webinar on changing student pathways in higher education, I observed participants reciting the now-familiar “laundry list” of characteristics that are not traditional about this generation’s students. The list included everything from age to race to whether and how much students commute, work, serve in the military, or care for a family. As the webinar advanced, some expected themes emerged: How can we combat the “undermatching” phenomenon? (Undermatching describes the idea that many underserved students who are qualified to attend selective institutions are not applying to or enrolling in them). How can we diversify elite institutions where students are more likely to graduate and reach influential social positions? How can we prevent students who do not have to from going to community colleges? These well-intentioned questions sit atop a set of assumptions that we would be wise to challenge more often and more openly. Read the rest of this entry »

The chorus of critics is growing in size and volume.  “College is too expensive.”  “Students graduate with crushing debt and can’t get jobs anyway.”  “We don’t really need more college graduates—especially those with liberal arts degrees.”  “Liberal education is a luxury we can’t afford.” “What the economy really needs is more technical training.”

We’ve all heard commentators and read stories making these assertions.  The criticism is bipartisan,  from President Obama suggesting that art history degrees are less valuable than training certificates to Senator Marco Rubio blaming higher education (and too much public funding for it) for producing an overeducated and underemployed citizenry and using Bureau of Labor Statistics to bolster his arguments. Read the rest of this entry »

AAC&U’s 2014 Annual Meeting  encouraged me to think anew about liberal learning in unexpected places.  This is a theme I’ve mentioned before.  Let’s find liberal learning, for instance, in developmental education, a place it isn’t usually expected to be. At the annual meeting a number of colleagues from AAC&U’s Community College Roadmap project got together to discuss this topic. We shared stories of significant new work that has the potential to reshape and revitalize developmental learning and reconnect it to general education.

One story came to me from Monika (Nika) Hogan, associate professor of English at Pasadena City College (PCC). It’s a story of surprising discovery. The First-Year Pathways (FYP), a common first-year experience program at PCC, has been using Reading Apprenticeship, a structured program and pedagogy, with exciting high-impact results.  Reading Apprenticeship is being used by a statewide community of practice in California, the Reading Apprenticeship Project. At Pasadena, Nika says that she is “personally jumping up and down about the impact.”  The First-Year Pathways program, infused with Reading Apprenticeship activities, is demonstrably improving outcomes. At an institution where 70 percent of the 2013 cohort of First-Year Pathways students tested below English 1A—the first college English level—and 85 percent tested below transfer-level math, these results are important. Read the rest of this entry »

By Elena K. Abbott, Ph.D. Candidate, History, Georgetown University

What kinds of practices are institutions of higher education using to improve faculty teaching? This is the question tackled in the conference session “Improving the Quality of College Teaching: What Really Works,” led by Peter Seldin, Distinguished Professor of Management at Pace University, and John Zubizarreta, professor of English and director of Honors and Faculty Development at Columbia College. Read the rest of this entry »

By: David Brakke, Dean, College of Science and Mathematics, James Madison University

I will close my comments on the AAC&U Annual Meeting with a brief note on diversity. Read the rest of this entry »

Tackling the Big Questions

By: David Brakke, Dean, College of Science and Mathematics, James Madison University

The conference plenaries and luncheon speakers at AAC&U’s Annual Meeting addressed important topics of broad interest. The future of scholarship, the future of innovation—big ideas and big issues. What skills are required to foster a culture of innovation? What is the role of the liberal arts and sciences in developing those skills? Read the rest of this entry »

By: David Brakke, Dean, College of Science and Mathematics, James Madison University              

Networking, networking, networking.  AAC&U’s Annual Meeting is itself a wonderful opportunity for mentoring.  As large as the conference is, many meetings are by chance.  ACAD and PKAL sessions and other “birds of a feather” lunches and gatherings provide more occasions to network.  Definitely more interactive sessions provide greater opportunities for networking than do ones packed with speakers and no time for discussion. Read the rest of this entry »

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