ADVANCING STUDENT SUCCESS IN HIGHER EDUCATION
WHEREAS, today's growth in college attendance and the Obama administration's commitment to boost college attainment make this a good time for public officials, students and faculty and staff as well as other stakeholders to join together to study and promote the most effective ways to enhance college student success; and
WHEREAS, despite the popularity and undoubted quality of our colleges and universities, inadequate and shrinking public investment in higher education has led to concern among American Federation of Teachers' members that college student attainment is not as high as it should be and reflects unacceptable disparities among different racial, ethnic and economic groups of students; and
WHEREAS, promoting the success of their students is the overriding mission and day-to-day responsibility of frontline faculty who bring to their classrooms years of education and experience and, as practicing professionals, have every right to claim primary expertise in matters of curriculum development, teaching and student assessment; and
WHEREAS, faculty and professional academic staff, despite their expertise, have generally been bypassed in public debates about higher education accountability, where the tendency has been to seek "solutions" that are attractive not because of their academic merit, but because they are easily measurable and often because they require minimal investment of public funds; and
WHEREAS, this breakdown between policy development and frontline input has negative consequences, among them:
- Unsophisticated measures of graduation rates and course completion rates that fail to account for the diversity of academic preparation, academic goals and family and work obligations reflected in today's college student body.
- The placement of weight on overly simplistic standardized "output" measures of student achievement.
- The placement of too little weight on the critical relationship between student finances and collegiate attainment.
- Disregard of the academic processes of shared governance, academic freedom and tenure, as well as professional control of the classroom, which are the cornerstones of college quality; and
WHEREAS, the AFT has initiated a public website called whatshouldcount.org to provide up-to-date information on the latest developments related to student success and accountability and to provide a forum for educators to share their expertise and exchange their insights on those issues:
RESOLVED, that the American Federation of Teachers consider student success a top priority in its higher education agenda and continue to focus the union's higher education policy initiatives, communications and other activities around the needs of students; and
RESOLVED, that the AFT vigorously engage policymakers, accrediting agencies and other higher education stakeholders to support policies that reflect the perspective of frontline academic faculty and staff on what properly defines student success, how to achieve it and how to account for its achievement; and
RESOLVED, that the AFT promote standards for college student success that reflect:
- The commonalities as well as the diversity of undergraduate education.
- The differing responsibilities of higher education administration, faculty and staff, students and government agencies in achieving and accounting for student success.
- The importance of professionally driven student assessment based on multiple measures—remaining open to cross-departmental and cross-institutional assessment measures but opposing simplistic cross-institutional testing.
- The recognition that college education, at its best, is a complex endeavor whose success must be measured with complex principles.
- The importance of sufficient public funding for public institutions of higher education—which currently enroll more than 80 percent of American college students—as a key ingredient of student success; and
RESOLVED, that the AFT advocate that government agencies adopt a measure of student attainment that would replace the current federal graduation rate formula with a mechanism that tracks all students (full-time, part-time, transfer and returning), tracks student persistence as long as the student remains in college, and measures success not just in terms of degree attainment but in terms of achieving the students' educational objectives; and
RESOLVED, that the AFT support an increase in federal financial assistance for hard-pressed college students, especially nontraditional adult and part-time students, as well as federal support to improve the capacity of colleges and universities to advance student success; and
RESOLVED, that the AFT support increased funding dedicated to instruction at higher education institutions because lack of sufficient funding for instruction constitutes a major impediment to achieving student success in American higher education; and
RESOLVED, that the AFT emphasize the central importance of policies that reinforce accountability in higher education, including shared governance, faculty primacy in teaching and assessment, academic freedom, tenure, support for professional staff and especially the close connection between a strong, stable academic staffing structure and student success.