Today, vigorous (and well-funded) research, experimentation and policy development are being undertaken in government, association and foundation circles. Most of it is aimed at goals like ensuring that the higher education curriculum better meets projections of career and economic needs; increasing graduation and curbing dropouts; defining institutional and cross-institutional outcomes for higher education, both generically and in particular disciplines; re-making student assessment to reflect these goals; and then re-making institutional accountability requirements to reflect the outputs flowing from these changes. We highlight some of these student success initiatives in this section. Click on the name of the organization, or scroll down, for more information.
- The Lumina Foundation
- American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U)
- The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
- National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS)
The Lumina Foundation for Education's mission is to increase the proportion of Americans with post-secondary degrees to sixty percent by 2025. To support this "Big Goal," as it is called, the privately funded Indianapolis-based foundation has made over $250 million worth of grants to organizations for projects that align with their overall mission of increasing student attainment. Three of their largest funded projects include Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count, a program designed to help community college students obtain degrees, KnowHow2GO, a campaign designed to give traditionally underrepresented students the information they need to apply to, and succeed, in higher education, and Making Opportunity Affordable, Lumina's productivity initiative that partners with states and institutions to increase graduation rates while containing costs.
Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count utilizes several strategies for increasing degree completion that are aimed at students who are historically underserved. These efforts include improving remedial education and gatekeeper courses, improving advising, and providing more support for first year students. Given that Lumina is very interested in data-driven assessment, Achieving the Dream supports establishing an Office of Institutional Effectiveness at each institution and trains faculty in assessment and data analysis.
KNowHow2GO is an advertising/awareness campaign Lumina has undertaken in partnership with the American Council on Education (ACE) to address college access. The website demystifies the college application process and securing financial aid, and it showcases success stories. The campaign is aimed at high school students and is primarily web based, including an interactive website and a presence on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. The virtual tour of a generic college campus offers a useful glimpse into a standard classroom, library, and admissions office, but does not show a professor's office or address other crucial information about faculty working conditions.
Making Opportunity Affordable's four stated goals are: increasing the percentage of college educated adults, containing costs and strategically investing resources, strengthening institutional capacity, and improving student learning. The initiative distributes multi-year grants to institutions that it believes are good models for cost containment and productivity, and they also fund case studies, data collection, and other "provocative ideas."
Tuning USA is a faculty-driven pilot project designed to define what students must know, understand and be able to demonstrate after completing a degree in a specific field. To put it another way, tuning is the process of "harmonizing" higher education programs and degrees by defining curricula learning outcomes by subject area. Tuning USA is based on the work that has been done to increase transparency around what a degree represents for Europe's Bologna Process.
Cliff Adelman, senior associate at IHEP, is the leading U.S. expert on Bologna and has been working with Lumina to develop the tuning process. His paper, The Bologna Process for U.S. Eyes: Re-learning Higher Education in the Age of Convergence, is a good source for explaining how the Bologna process might be reenvisioned for American higher education.
Degree Qualifications Profile
Lumina recently developed a draft degree qualifications profile that lays out the competencies a student is expected to demonstrate for a degree to be awarded. This is a definition of the learning that a degree represents, regardless of discipline or major. The profile also provides a mechanism for defining what quality means and plots clear routes to post-graduate education and careers. In Lumina's words, a degree profile—if adhered to—can be assurance for students, employers and other higher education stakeholders that a degree has value.
The American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) unveiled the ten-year Liberal Education and America's Promise (LEAP) initiative in 2005. LEAP champions the value of a liberal education for all—historically, only a minority of students have received a liberal higher education, while most of the student population received more narrowly-focused career training.
To address increased calls for accountability in higher education, AAC&U has developed Essential Learning Outcomes that outline what all students should know and be able to demonstrate upon completing their degrees. Their learning outcomes are:
- Knowledge of Human Cultures and the Physical and Natural World (sciences, social sciences, math, humanities, histories, languages, arts)
- Intellectual and Practical Skills (communication, inquiry, critical and creative thinking, quantitative literacy, teamwork in diverse groups, problem solving)
- Personal and Social Responsibility(civic engagement, ethical reasoning, intercultural knowledge and action, lifelong learning), and
- Integrative and Applied Learning(the capacity to adapt knowledge and skills to new settings).
To assess these learning outcomes, LEAP has developed 15 VALUE rubrics by working with faculty and other stakeholders.
AAC&U's LEAP initiative defines liberal education in part as "[A] philosophy of education that empowers individuals with broad knowledge and transferable skills, and a strong sense of value, ethics, and civic engagement. Characterized by challenging encounters with important issues, and more a way of studying than a specific course or field of study, a liberal education can be achieved at all types of colleges and universities." Though LEAP is most readily adaptable to four year liberal arts institutions, many rubrics are applicable in all higher education institutions such as the critical thinking rubric available here .
According to LEAP "The rubrics are intended for institutional-level use in evaluating and discussing student learning, not for grading. The core expectations articulated in all 15 of the VALUE rubrics can and should be translated into the language of individual campuses, disciplines, and even courses." Again, the rubrics were developed through a long process of collaboration with faculty examining existing rubrics and generally preserve institutional differences and the judgment of the instructor.
LEAP also advocates for what it calls "High-Impact Educational Practices" which are largely prescriptions for integrative core curricula such as first year seminars, capstone projects, writing intensive courses, and learning communities. Internships and service learning are also promoted under this umbrella.
To move this program nationally, AAC&U is using a public advocacy campaign that leans on their network of member institutions. They have created a network of 300 institutions called the LEAP Campus Action Network to develop the vision further and work toward having their learning outcomes adopted by campuses across the country.
Their initiative also involves issuing periodic public reports on institutional progress in helping students meet the essential learning outcomes outlined above. Their website also features Assessment How-To Guides, (scroll down), podcasts and videos on liberal education and the new global economy, and featured campus examples. Further research includes: High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter; Assessment in Cycles of Improvement: Faculty Designs for Essential Learning Outcomes; Communicating Commitment to Liberal Education: A Self-Study Guide for Institutions. All LEAP-related research and publications can be found here.
The work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in the United States is focused on college readiness and post-secondary education. As with other organizations, Gates' completion agenda also has a "big goal"—their Postsecondary Success Strategy is to dramatically increase the number of students who graduate from high school ready for college and career and who go on to complete a postsecondary degree or certificate. They also promote restructuring financial aid programs and remedial education.
The Gates Foundation has financed many large scale completion initiatives at both two-year and four-year institutions—supporting the redesign of "gatekeeper" classes, distance learning programs, and competition between faculty. To study why students do not persist in college, Gates has given almost seven million dollars to organizations including the American Enterprise Institute, The Center for American Progress, the Center for Law and Social Policy, The College Board, Excelencia in Education, and the Institute for Higher Education Policy.
An example of the kind of initiative Gates invests in can be found in Washington state. With $5.3 million from the Gates Foundation, $800,000 from the Ford Foundation and support from the state legislature, the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges began The Washington State Student Completion Initiative during the 2007-2008 school year. The initiative will extend the state's Integrated Basic Education and Skill Training (I-BEST) program which provides basic education and career skills classes to underprepared students beginning post-secondary education. The grant will also expand the Student Achievement Initiative which provides financial rewards to public colleges when a certain proportion of their students hit academic milestones such as moving from remedial to college level courses. Two new programs will also be initiated with this funding: promoting college-level math and access to online coursework. One program will make "substantial changes" to remedial and college level math courses with a goal of increasing completion of these courses by fifteen percent. For the second program, eighty "gatekeeper" courses will be developed into online and "blended" (a combination of in-person and online instruction) formats using open source course materials. Gates matched a $750,000 investment made by the Washington state legislature in providing low-cost online textbooks to community college students.
Click here to learn more about Gates' Postsecondary Success Strategy.
The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) is a research and development center founded to improve the management effectiveness of colleges and universities. They frequently engage in partnerships and initiatives with the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, Lumina Foundation for Education, Ford Foundation, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
NCHEMS is perhaps best known for having advocated for statewide student data tracking systems that can be linked to each other. Lumina funded NCHEMS' Center for State Policy on Student Progression (C2SP), which attempts to meet that goal and link state practices to promote student success. They have surveyed states' use of assessment and student learning outcomes, their policies on student transitions (such as from high school to college or from a two-year to a four-year institution), and policies on accreditation.
Another major initiative of NCHEMS is their information center at http://www.higheredinfo.org/ which provides a state by state breakdown of state spending on higher education, demographic information, and student success results. The parameters of student success are defined mainly in terms of graduation rates, but there is also information about increases in earnings for college graduates so success is also defined in monetary terms.