In sum, underlying the erosion in public financing for higher education there is a deeper issue, an issue of reformulating the public purposes that colleges and universities can perform in the 21st century. The Trusts cannot address the challenge of connection in its entirety. But we can encourage colleges and universities to work in new ways on one of the most critical challenges to America's social renewal—improving the quality of education provided in the schools. And we can help design public policies that will strengthen the role colleges and universities can play in meeting America's vital needs.
Chapter VII—A Higher Education Agenda for PCT
America's colleges and universities are not in crisis. But the problems we have identified in the previous chapters are serious challenges. In the face of rising costs and declining revenues, colleges and universities cannot continue to conduct business as usual. As educating institutions, they are not nearly as powerful as they could be—and need to be—to meet America's emerging challenges. And to reclaim their status as a worthy public investment, they need to more actively engage in the problems that are now on the nation's agenda.
What confronts America's higher education enterprise, in brief, is not a crisis but something that may be even more debilitating to its long-term health and role in our national life: low expectations. Both America's expectations for higher education and higher education's expectations for itself are simply too low. The danger is that those who lead higher education, as well as the public that supports it, will settle for a level of performance that is much less than it could be.
The Trusts, accordingly, should call upon higher education and the larger public to meet higher aspirations. We should commit our resources and our prestige to the proposition that higher education can be much better than it now is. Although there are many versions of what being better entails, several themes emerge from our preceding analysis.
Being better means not just offering courses and providing instruction, but taking responsibility to produce student learning. This, in turn, entails thinking harder about the kinds of learning that students and society need in the 21st century. Simply getting more students through the pipeline is not good enough. All constituencies relevant to higher education must aspire to help students achieve new levels of learning--learning that entails real understanding, and learning that includes the literacies now required for our changing society, especially the literacies related to leading a life of engaged citizenship.
Being better means working harder at providing higher education that is more affordable and efficient for all concerned. The key here, again, is to think first in terms of student learning, and then re-engineer the way academic work gets done from this perspective. Using technologies not only to enhance learning but also to reduce costs, and breaking down artificial barriers between schools and colleges, are both means to accomplish this purpose.
Being better means becoming more deeply engaged in helping America solve its pressing social problems. First and foremost, I believe this should involve taking part in the national endeavor in which higher education has the most potential leverage: the reform of schools.
So how can the Trusts help raise the aspirations of the entire higher education enterprise? The preceding analysis points to an ambitious agenda for the Trusts—an agenda that aims to achieve three ambitious goals.
First, I propose that we take on the task of forging new aspirations for undergraduate education as an explicit and primary goal. As I argue subsequently, I believe there are several routes to this end. Partly, it is a matter of encouraging institutions to see their educational task in a new light; partly, it is a matter of fostering approaches to pedagogy and ways of working that set standards for the industry at large; and partly, it is a matter of strengthening the incentives for continuous quality improvement. By whatever the route, our goal should be clear: we stand for higher aspirations for undergraduate learning.
Second, I propose that we encourage colleges and universities to become more strategically engaged with their schools and their communities. As I argued earlier, colleges and universities are involved with the K-12 system in many ways, but they are not strategically engaged. In the drama of school reform, colleges and universities are still the missing actors. The Trusts can foster new kinds of engagements that will reinforce the goals of school reform we are pursuing directly through our work with the K-12 system.
Finally, we need to recognize that the faculty holds the keys to progress on every item on the preceding agenda. Accordingly, as a third, explicit goal, I propose that we take on the task of fostering a set of professional ideals and policies that will shape a new professorate—a professorate for the 21st century. We will measure our progress toward the first two goals in terms of changes we can observe in colleges, universities and schools, whereas we will measure our progress on this third goal by looking at changes in the academic profession itself.
This is an ambitious agenda, so allow me a word in its defense. First, each of these goals and the cluster of specific objectives I outline subsequently is mutually reinforcing. To push forward on one front, such as encouraging colleges and universities to take responsibility for student learning, reinforces the work on another front, such as becoming more deeply engaged with the schools. Both goals one and two will be enormously aided if we can reward our faculty for this kind of work. In this sense, the grantmaking strategy I am proposing is a bit like acupuncture--finding a number of pressure points that will change the energy flow of the whole system.
Second, not all of the nine particular objectives that I set forth as a way to enact the three goals imply a whole program of grantmaking. In the case of developing new incentives for quality improvement, for example, I can imagine that after a year of thinking and planning we might come up with only two or three strategic projects. These projects would be major strategic initiatives, but they would not imply an ongoing commitment of resources.
Third, I do not propose to pursue all nine objectives with equal intensity over time. In pursuing an objective such as "pedagogies for engaged learning," we may find that a modest push from the Trusts is enough to give momentum to a new movement—and that this itself is all the Trusts should seek to achieve. We could then declare a victory and move on to other things. By contrast, in pursuing an objective such as the redefinition of the Ph.D., we may find that no amount of resources will move this particular mountain, that the field itself is not yet ready for a major investment. My point is that, until we try out some of these ideas, it is difficult to know how to prioritize this agenda. The agenda proposed here is an "opening" agenda. In the three-year work plan that will be presented to the board a year from now, the priorities will be a good deal clearer.
New Aspirations For Undergraduate Education
To forge new aspirations for undergraduate education, I believe we need to work toward a future state of affairs in which four things are true: (l) increasing numbers of colleges and universities take responsibility, not just for providing teaching but for producing student learning; (2) increasing numbers of faculty members employ pedagogies that truly engage students; (3) there are a variety of good, nationally known examples of uses of technology, especially in high-enrollment introductory courses, which both enhance learning and reduce costs; and (4) strengthened incentives for continuous quality improvement are operating in the larger system.
Objective 1: Taking Learning Seriously
I propose, first of all, that we encourage colleges and universities to extend their teaching missions beyond that of providing instruction to that of producing learning; and that we support selected activities of institutions trying to do this, especially the activities of assessing student learning and awarding degrees based on clear criteria of student performance.
Since the beginning of the industrial era, colleges and universities have conceived of their missions in terms of teaching, that is, providing instruction. The principle vehicle for doing so has been an academic assembly line of courses and credit hours that eventually lead to a degree. Yet this is like saying that the business of General Motors is to operate an assembly line, and the purpose of medical care is to fill hospital beds. Teaching is a critical activity, but it is not an end in itself. To contain costs and to enhance the quality of higher education, colleges and universities must now extend their mission to include an explicit commitment to, and responsibility for, student learning.
How can we tell when an institution is moving down this path? First, institutions embracing this extended mission would assume responsibility, not just to provide good and ethical teaching, but to enable their students to achieve demonstrable gains in learning. Obviously, there are limits to how far this point can be taken. Students must assume responsibility for their own learning. But institutions embracing this extended mission commit to sharing this responsibility with students. Institutions that commit to producing student learning would accept the obligation to modify their behavior and try new approaches if things are not going well.
Second, institutions that embrace this extended mission would be clear at every point about their standards--standards for admission; standards for learning in each course; and, especially, standards for graduation and the awarding of degrees.
Third, institutions embracing this extended mission would necessarily have to establish and make effective use of an infrastructure of assessment information about how students are doing. Both tasks—acquiring the information and using the information to inform decisions for improvement—are critical. I am not calling here for a new wave of testing. Much of the student learning that is important to assess can be evaluated by faculty members serving as expert judges—much like gymnastics and skating competitions are judged by panels of experts who combine their votes into a single score. Were the faculty members to ask even such relatively simple questions as, "How much do our students write during the course of their student careers?" it would yield highly revealing information.
Fourth, institutions embracing this extended mission would continuously re-examine their structures and policies in light of the findings from these assessments. The assumption that instruction needs to take place within the confines of courses that meet at set times, each taught by individual members of the faculty, would no longer be sacred. Institutions would think about productivity, not in terms of the costs per hour of providing instruction but in terms of the costs per unit of student learning.
Although there are various ways the Education program might encourage institutions to travel this path, our first core activity will be to create an ongoing summer institute. We would invite to the institute colleges and universities with a clear vision of their educational missions and the desire to restructure their organizations around specified goals for student learning. During the institute experience, campus teams would develop plans that they would enact during the academic year, returning for a second summer to share their work and plan the next steps. All participating institutions would become part of an ongoing network of institutions pioneering the path toward taking responsibility for student learning. Through a related set of grants, we would develop the intellectual capital of ideas and materials that would nourish the deliberations of those who attend the institute.
Objective 2: Pedagogies for Engaged Learning
Earlier in this paper, I characterized the dominant mode of teaching and learning in higher education as "teaching as telling; learning as recall." As we have seen, this mode of instruction fails to help students acquire two kinds of learning that are now crucial to their individual success and critically needed by our society at large. The first is real understanding. The second is "habits of the heart" that motivate students to be caring citizens. Both of these qualities are acquired through pedagogies that elicit intense engagement.
Fortunately, issues of pedagogy are finally surfacing as a topic for discussion and action. The most recent example is a l996 report, "Shaping the Future," issued by an advisory committee to the National Science Foundation. Culminating a long process of study and discussion by leading luminaries, this report comes down foursquare on the need for all students to learn the subjects of science, mathematics, engineering and technology through direct experience with methods and processes of inquiry. Active learning, hands-on science, workshop physics and other modes of learning by doing are now central items on the reform agenda for undergraduate education.
Beyond the fields of science, mathematics and engineering education, there are four separate conversations--four strands of pedagogical reform—that are moving in the same broad direction. Each is organized around a particular pedagogical idea, and each is capturing the imagination of a particular group of faculty in different fields.
One is problem-based learning, premised on the idea that powerful learning best occurs when students are working to solve concrete problems rather than studying blocks of classified knowledge. In 1966, the founders of the faculty of medicine at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, committed themselves to this concept and enacted the first, full-blown vision of problem-based learning into practice. Instead of taking the traditional two years of basic science courses before beginning a clinical program, students at McMaster now are confronted with real patient problems, starting the very first day. Students work in collaborative teams and on self-directed projects, and the faculty members play a variety of innovative instructional roles as resource persons, unit planners, advisors, disciplinary consultants and assessors. Other medical schools have now adopted the McMaster model. A parallel movement is taking place in engineering education. And in a somewhat different version, problem-based learning is catching on in business schools, where case-method teaching and other close-to-practice pedagogies have long been in vogue.
A second strand of reform, collaborative learning, is premised on the idea that powerful kinds of learning are more likely to take place when people work together than when individuals study in isolation. In recent years, the benefits of collaborative and cooperative learning and the power of peer groups in the learning process have become familiar topics of discussion and experimentation by faculty in the arts and sciences as well as the professional schools. And there is plenty of research evidence to document the claims. In a study of medical students at the University of London, for example, M. L. J. Abercrombie found that medical students developed diagnostic judgment—the key element in medical practice—more quickly and accurately when working collaboratively in small groups than when working individually. In the l980s at the University of California at Berkeley, Uri Treisman developed convincing evidence that collaborative learning was the key to the successful retention of minority students in calculus and other difficult mathematics courses.
A third strand of reform, service learning, sees service to the community as an integral part of the teaching and learning process. The kinds of service students engage in may take a variety of forms: for example, providing assistance to individuals in need, providing tutoring and other types of educational outreach in schools and undertaking field-based studies such as documenting the existence of toxic wastes in a given area. The key idea is that experiential learning through community service can be a powerful component of academic study if the two are brought together in structured reflection. Recent evaluations by two Vanderbilt professors and a RAND study led by UCLA professors Alexander and Helen Astin testify to the power of service learning in promoting skills development and attitudes of social responsibility.
A fourth strand of reform, undergraduate research, is premised on the notion that the kinds of apprenticeship relationships forged between graduate students and faculty that characterize the best of graduate education can and should be extended to undergraduate students as well. Pioneered by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Margaret MacVicar in the l970s, the idea of engaging undergraduate students in faculty research projects has now spread to many institutions. Many universities now advertise research opportunities available to undergraduates, and many give undergraduates credit for independent study.
All these efforts represent streams of reform that are moving in the right direction, yet all remain marginalized pedagogies that operate on the sidelines of the dominant mode of lecture-based, didactic instruction. I propose that the Trusts' Education program seek to give new status and legitimacy to all of these movements and help these individual strands of reform unite in a powerful movement for pedagogical reform. Three strategies can make this happen.
The first is to enable individual institutions, or significant units within them, to achieve breakthroughs that lift pedagogies for engaged learning to the status of a distinctive and predominant pedagogy. With this strategy, we would be looking for institutions ready and willing to make pedagogy part of their overall institutional identity (as law schools have with case method teaching for example).
The only undergraduate institution I know of that has made a substantial, institution-wide commitment to problem-based learning is Aalborg University in Denmark. When Aalborg was established in 1974, the founding faculty decided that project-organized, problem-based learning would be the school's distinctive approach. Now approximately half of the curriculum—across all fields—is project and problem based. All 10,000 undergraduates work in small groups on a major project each semester. The extent to which this type of engaged learning influences other aspects of a university is apparent as soon as one steps on campus. Instead of the usual array of auditoriums and lecture halls, Aalborg boasts of more than 1,000 small offices that student teams use as bases of operations for their projects.
For institutions just beginning to use the new pedagogies, modest grants targeted on introductory courses in high-enrollment fields can have far-reaching and lasting effects—especially when the individual schools are linked in networks. Our second strategy, therefore, will be to create infrastructures through which the individual strands of reform can scale up to become more serious, and respected, movements. In every case, and especially the case of service learning, it will be important to document and present results and benefits within the context of each specific discipline. We cannot just tout the virtues of service learning, however. We must initiate projects that address what service learning might mean in chemistry, physics, history and so on. In a number of the scholarly fields, the professional organizations representing the field are eager to work on this agenda.
Third, we can bring together the leading thinkers and practitioners of these various strands of reform; encourage them to explore their common intellectual roots; and, therefore, prompt a deeper and richer cross-disciplinary and cross-pedagogical discussion of how pedagogies for engaged learning can become a more coherent and powerful alternative to the reigning instructional paradigm.
As to our grantmaking technique, I believe this objective can best be pursued through an ongoing, open-grant competition in which the grant competition itself—the call for proposals, the review process, the grant announcements and the networks of grantees that will be created--reinforces our overall objective. The way the Trusts announces its interest, selects grantees and works with grantees can give visibility and status to the new pedagogies for engaged learning.
Objective 3: Using Technology to Enhance Learning and Reduce Costs
New technologies are now impacting campuses in several ways: driving up costs, enhancing teaching and learning, and intensifying competition among educational institutions by bringing new competitors into the marketplace. New technologies are a source of both new nightmares and new dreams for American higher education. In this context, I see two strategic roles that we can play.
The first role is to help frame the issues, persistently placing the national discussions about technology in the context of student learning and ways to organize academic work to achieve this learning cost-effectively. Many constituencies bring self-interested agendas to discussions about technology: administrators worry about competitors, faculty worry about jobs, vendors want to sell particular hardware and software, and so on. The Trusts can serve the larger good by mounting initiatives that produce thoughtful analysis and discussion from a public-interest perspective. One model comes from the early years of the Pew Roundtable on Higher Education, which sponsored policy papers that framed a national conversation about educational restructuring.
In addition, there may be some focused investments we could make to evaluate particular developments or strengthen the general capacities for evaluation and quality assurance of technology-based initiatives. For example, hundreds of new courses are coming on-line, without peer review or other mechanisms in place to help consumers judge their quality. Many institutions are going into distance learning, outstripping the capacities of state agencies, accrediting agencies, and others to monitor their quality. The wild west of technology-based learning needs some sheriffs, and I believe the Trusts can play a role in putting them in place.
A second strategic role for the Trusts is to foster some good efforts to use technology to both enhance learning and reduce costs. We need not, and should not, use our scarce resources simply to prompt more experimentation designed only to enhance learning. The introduction of computers and Internet access to campuses is already prompting a renaissance of faculty interest in issues of teaching and learning. Nor, but in exceptional circumstances, should we underwrite the development costs of new software. The marketplace can take care of that. What we can and should do is encourage colleges and universities to redesign their instructional approaches to achieve cost savings as well as quality enhancements, so we can point to several dozen schools like Renessalear Polytechnic Institute that have broken out of t
In many institutions, students are highly concentrated in a relatively limited number of introductory courses. For example, at the Maricopa Community College District in Phoenix, which enrolls approximately 90,000 students, 44 percent of these students are concentrated in multiple sections of just 25 courses. Put another way, just 1 percent of Maricopa's courses generates nearly half of its total enrollment. These are also the courses where large numbers of minority students tend to be concentrated. Putting even one of these high-enrollment courses, such as English or basic mathematics, on a more cost-effective basis could, therefore, yield significant gains in quality, productivity and equity. If a consortium of similar institutions decided to develop the right software, retrain their faculty for new instructional roles and re-engineer the way these courses are taught, the gains could be even more substantial. I propose to explore this, especially with open-admissions institutions.