Author Archive

By: Susan Elrod

Friday morning of AAC&U’s Annual Meeting, a panel of experts in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning and assessment was convened to present different tools and resources for assessing learning in the STEM disciplines. The focus was on interdisciplinary learning, and the room was filled with an enthusiastic crowd of 150 people.

Charlie Blaich (Wabash Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts, Wabash College) emphasized that good assessment starts with knowing who your students are from the very start. In other words, what experiences, knowledge, and expectations do they bring to your institution as first-year students? Charlie presented results from a STEM-focused analysis of data from the Wabash National Study, which utilizes multiple metrics to analyze the critical factors influencing liberal arts education. Here are a few highlights:

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By: Ken O’Donnell

Here’s an e-mail I got from a colleague after this session:  “Brings tears to my eyes.  Truly amazing.”   I wasn’t quite crying, but this was an amazing set of stories.  Professor Barbara Clinton of Highline Community College has developed an Honors Program that, since its 2003 inception, has transformed hundreds of lives.  Her three copanelists were all alumni, with spectacular stories to tell.

Clinton described Highline as a college in a “poverty pocket” of King County, near Seattle, Washington.  It’s the most diverse community college in Washington state, and most of its students come in not knowing a lot about higher education — where it can take them, and how they can get it.  She was blunt about the raw material of the student body, and I was surprised her three panelists were, too. Read the rest of this entry »

By: Stephen Langendorfer

As we enter a new decade, education is still plagued by one of the more misdirected assessment initiatives of the past decade:  No Child Left Behind. NCLB, unfortunately, arose from the faulty notion that simply by administering standardized tests, educational practices magically would be improved. Indeed, the most underperforming schools as measured by standardized test scores are punished and the children who need the resources the most are deprived of them.

Along the same mistaken line of accountability thinking, institutions of higher education were coerced into engaging in the misnamed Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA). The misguided idea behind VSA is that the primary focus of assessment in colleges and universities should be garnering some single standardized score by which an institution can compared to its peers. Although we know from the LEAP initiative that all institutions of higher education should share some common focus on liberal education as measured by the Essential Learning Outcomes, each institution must have its own unique mission and vision. No standardized test can come close to demonstrating the degree to which any institution is achieving its self-identified mission.

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By: Dwight Smith, Ed.D.

Highline Community College’s Honors Scholar program demonstrates that combining wit and will can benefit students’ wallets.   Through the will of a dedicated faculty, the program was implemented in 2003 with thirteen students and three faculty and has grown to approximately 250 students who work with 100 faculty on research projects integrated in courses.  The students enroll in a two-credit “bootcamp” course to develop a personal statement, an academic resume, and explore transfer opportunities throughout the United States. A one-credit course serves as a capstone experience to prepare them to submit admission and scholarship applications to further their higher education.  Graduates of the program have transferred to public universities, elite private universities, and the military academies.

The three Highline honors graduate students at the session demonstrated the varied paths community college students take through higher education.  One student was a Marine who is now a student at Tufts; the second student, from Ethiopia, now is in a master’s program at the University of Washington; and the third student, a UPS employee, is now a George Washington University law student. Some five years later, each student recalled in detail his or her research topic and the results of their honors projects.  The three students represented very well the 85 percent of their fellow honors students who transferred to a university.

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By: Jonathan Rossing

For AAC&U members to succeed in advancing the values and issues important to us, it is crucial to understand not only our institutional constituents but also the public view of higher education. Accounting for the predominant attitudes toward higher education in society, we are better equipped to adapt our goals of liberal education for broader, public audiences. One strategy for analyzing our public audience is to take stock of the ways media institutions discuss higher education.

On Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, Comedian Stephen Colbert bemoaned contemporary higher education after he met a college intern taking “whatever courses look interesting.” Colbert joked, “It turns out these days they let college kids do anything they want. They live in co-ed dorms, make friends with people from different backgrounds both in the real world and on ‘The MyFace.’ And they can even eat cereal for dinner. It is chaos and we need to address this crisis.” Colbert’s satire successfully reflects for his audience common public attitudes and discussions about higher education.

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By: Dwight Smith, Ed.D

President Obama’s call for America to reclaim its place as having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020 presents several challenges and requires wit, will, and wallet by community colleges to meet this goal of increasing the number of students receiving a degree by approximately 150,000 annually.  The wit will require community colleges to embrace a “culture of completion” for our students and believe that students have the “right to succeed.”  Wit will be revealed in knowing our students, their hopes and aspirations, and engaging faculty in the use of high-impact practices throughout the college.

Will is determined by community colleges’ success in the political arena to advance the American Graduation Initiative.  With approximately six million students enrolled in community colleges, this sector of higher education provides the largest source of potential graduates to propel the United States to reclaim its position as world leader in educated citizens.  The response to the American Graduation Initiative has not been embraced enthusiastically by all sectors of higher education for a variety of reasons.  Community colleges will need to exert their political will with the help of their students, faculty, administrators, and the communities they serve if they are to realize the role that is called for in the American Graduation Initiative.

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By: Susan Elrod

On January 21st, a panel of leading experts in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education set the stage for a conversation with academic leaders regarding the key leverage points and critical questions Project Kaleidoscope (PKAL) should be focusing on as we formulate an action agenda for the next five years. Dan Sullivan, president emeritus at St. Lawrence University and a major player in creating the PKAL-AAC&U alliance, introduced Peter Bruns (Howard Hughes Medical Institute), Jim Gentile (Research Corporation), Shirley Malcom (The American Association for the Advancement of Science), and Cora Marrett (National Science Foundation), who provided their perspectives on the current state of undergraduate STEM education reform. Read the rest of this entry »

By: Laura Behling

“I don’t know if you’ve heard this before,” John Pryor, director of the Cooperative Institutional Research Program at UCLA, wondered, “but finances are on the minds of a lot of people, not just presidents and boards, but also students who are coming to college.”

Thursday’s release of the 2009 CIRP data by the Higher Education Research Institute noted some intriguing principles and practices of today’s first-year college and university students. Fifty-five percent have some concerns about financing college, the highest percentage since 1971; more students are turning to loans to finance college; their fathers are unemployed at the highest percentage in the history of the survey (4.4 percent); and even though academic reputation is still the top reason students choose a particular school, other concerns, such as affordability or offers of financial assistance, are increasingly having an impact on a student’s choice of school.  Perhaps needless to say, colleges and universities will need to be able to deal with students who are increasingly anxious about financing their education.

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By: Stephen Langendorfer

Would it be an exaggeration to suggest that in its first five years the Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative has become the single most influential program ever created by AAC&U? This claim may be debatable, but the accomplishments of LEAP at its mid-point mark are truly remarkable. LEAP has promoted multiple programs in campus action, public advocacy, and authentic evidence. The Campus Action Network and Partner States initiatives are bringing the existence and adoption of the Essential Learning Outcomes to the forefront on college campuses across the country. The periodic Hart Research Associates surveys conducted for AAC&U are documenting that employers indeed value the achievement of the Essential Learning Outcomes in those they hire. The newly published Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education (VALUE) rubrics are providing,  for the first time, a national basis for assessing the Essential Learning Outcomes and offer a realistic alternative to standardized testing.

In 2005, LEAP’s lofty goals—sparking public debate about essential learning outcomes for all students, promoting liberal education and its broad benefits; and documenting the degree to which students were achieving liberal education outcomes—must have seemed daunting at the very least to the AAC&U leadership and membership. Looking back over LEAP’s brief history, these goals, like the Essential Learning Outcomes they spawned, are well on the way toward achievement. As Carol Geary Schneider proudly pointed out in the opening plenary session of AAC&U’s 2010 annual conference, the chief academic officers at AAC&U member institutions report that 63 percent of their campuses have learning goals that address the essential learning outcome of integrative learning, while 89 percent of campuses address the essential learning outcome of writing skills. Read the rest of this entry »

By: Ross Miller

I recently took on the role of director of assessment at a proprietary business school, bringing my background as an aging white guy educated as a musician, experienced in both public school and college teaching, and employed for nine years by AAC&U.  The session on Liberal Learning and Business Education (with William Sullivan and Anne Colby of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching) was of interest to me as I ponder  how to make general education and elective liberal arts study engaging, useful, and even life-changing for the students at my college.

With both associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs in business, my college is very successful at enrolling students attracted by our promise of small classes, friendly and attentive faculty, and an excellent job placement rate.

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