Excellence in undergraduate education must include equity, says Influential Group

Is Is undergraduate education about setting a bar and rewarding those students who can reach it, or providing the support needed for all students to succeed? A new report by leaders from leading research universities and colleges in the United States makes a strong case for equity. In doing so, the authors disavow long-held, albeit increasingly outdated, notions that a rigorous education requires weeding out less talented or ill-equipped students.

Rather, they say, one of the primary duties of the university should be to ensure that students who arrive at college with fewer educational, social, or financial resources are equipped to succeed at the same pace as their peers.

“Defining excellence in terms of fairness rather than, say, selectivity and sorting, upends at least 70 years of practice,” the authors state in “The Equity and Excellence Imperative: A 2030 Blueprint for Undergraduate Education in America’s Research Universities.” “Excellence based on equity forces us to think differently Why we do what we do, not just what we do and how we do it.

The report was produced by the Boyer Commission 2030 of the Association for Undergraduate Teaching in Research Universities, which consists of current and former university leaders, scholars and heads of higher education institutions. It is something of an update of the original Boyer Commission, convened in the 1990s by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. This group is recommendations, cutting-edge when first released, are now seen as mandatory elements of a modern undergraduate education. They emphasize interdisciplinary work, the development of students’ ability to communicate and the creative use of information technology.

The 2030 report is extensive, covering not only the types of education students should receive, but also approaches to effective teaching, counseling, faculty reward systems, curriculum structure, credit transfer , technology and mental health. Throughout the story, the authors highlight the ways in which traditional approaches to these dimensions of college favor students from more affluent backgrounds, and why that needs to change.

The report begins by noting that most students at public and private research universities identify as white, even though the student body is increasingly diverse, that six-year graduation rates for black students and Hispanics are significantly lower than those of white students, and that the percentage of undergraduate students who are Pell scholarship recipients has declined since 2010.

“In today’s world, you cannot be a great institution if you are not also an equitable and inclusive institution,” said commission co-chair Barbara Snyder, president of the Association of Universities Americans. “The data tells us that we are not doing as well as we could, or as well as we need and want. So we try to be specific about the kinds of things that can make a difference.

The commission chose the word “model” for a reason: to offer peers concrete ideas for improving outcomes through specific types of interventions and reforms. “It’s not just theoretical,” Snyder said. “We try to show concrete examples of how this can be done at different research universities across the country.”

In advocating that all undergraduates receive an education that combines career readiness, the humanities, and a solid foundation of general education, for example, they point to the work of Purdue University corner stone program, which aims to do just that.

In today’s world, you cannot be a great institution if you are not also a fair and inclusive institution.

In the area of ​​access and affordability, ensuring that full-time students succeed in four years – without excessive course loads or summer work, which are difficult for low- and middle-income students – is an essential part of the equation, the report says. But it requires looking at many aspects of the curriculum, and starts with analyzing data on how students progress through each degree program, to see where equity gaps exist.

Courses known to weed out students, those with high D’s, F’s, and dropout rates, complex prerequisite sequences, and majors with so many requirements that students have to take heavy course loads or pass more time enrolled “all promote ‘self-selection’ that masks deeper forms of discrimination, among other barriers to excellent education,” the report says. It highlights the work of several colleges and programs which aim to make these pathways clearer.

Make educational reforms the norm

In the area of ​​education reform, the report outlines a number of strategies backed by evidence showing they lead to better outcomes. This includes the use of low-stakes assignments and “flipped” classrooms so that meeting time is spent on group discussion and problem solving.

Although many faculty members have been using these techniques for years with notable success, the report says, these approaches are not yet professional standards. “You can always enter a classroom in which no reflection has been made on inclusive pedagogy,” he notes. “Faculty members do not systematically review their knowledge of relevant research in pedagogy, course design, and inclusive practices. Systemic adoption of such practices remains elusive, leaving unrealized all of their benefits for equity and excellence.

Despite these limited advances, the authors remain optimistic that the cultural and structural changes necessary for widespread adoption may occur.

“We emphasize that there is an enormous amount of evidence” to support the effectiveness of these strategies, said Peter McPherson, co-chair of the commission and president emeritus of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities. “We are a collection of evidence-based institutions. We produce that research and that literature. Now we have to apply it widely.

Another area of ​​concern is the disparate use of high-impact practices. It is a set of activities – including undergraduate research, internships and study abroad programs – that reformers believe increases student engagement and persistence. According to the report, research shows that black and Hispanic students who participate in high-impact practices during their freshman year of college show greater retention and grade gains than white students.

Yet “significant barriers to equitable access” exist, the report notes. For example, 51% of white students in the 2019 National Student Engagement Survey said they had participated in an internship, compared to 40% of black students. Lack of time, money, and awareness are some of the reasons given by students for not participating in high-impact practices.

Reducing or eliminating barriers, for example by integrating experiential learning into courses, is essential to address these gaps. When he was president of Michigan State University, McPherson noted, the institution was able to dramatically increase the percentage of students who studied abroad by creating more short-term programs and finding other ways to reduce costs and increase accessibility. Likewise, Snyder said, universities can work with companies to ensure the internships they offer are paid.

Leadership is crucial for successful change, the report concludes. But leaders must ensure reforms are a team effort: they must hold departments accountable, involve students, and draw on the expertise of supporting units, such as teaching and learning centers. and institutional research offices. In other words, “to be included in these reforms”.

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