Rather, they argue, a primary function of the university should be to ensure that students who come to college with fewer educational, social, or financial resources succeed as well as their peers.
“Defining excellence in terms of equity rather than, say, selectivity and sorting shakes at least 70 years of practice,” the authors note in The Equity-Excellence Imperative: A 2030 Blueprint for Undergraduate Education at US Research Universities. ” “Excellence grounded in justice requires us to think differently why We do what we do, not just what we do and how we do it.”
The report was prepared by the Association for Undergraduate Education at Research Universities’ Boyer 2030 Commission, which is made up of current and former university leaders, scholars and leaders of higher education organizations. It’s sort of an update of the original Boyer Commission convened by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in the 1990s. This group is recommendations, which are up to date after their publication, are now considered necessary elements of a modern basic education. These include an emphasis on interdisciplinary work, developing students’ communication skills and the creative use of information technology.
The 2030 report is wide-ranging, covering not only the type 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 narrative, the authors point out how traditional approaches to these dimensions of college favor students who come from better-off backgrounds, and why this needs to change.
The report begins by noting that despite the increasingly diverse student body, most students at public and private research universities identify as white, that six-year graduation rates for black and Hispanic students are significantly lower than for white students, and that the percentage of Students who are Pell Grant recipients has declined since 2010.
“In today’s world, you cannot be a distinguished institution without also being a just, inclusive institution,” said commission co-chair Barbara Snyder, president of the Association of American Universities. “Data tells us that we are not doing as well as we could, or as well as we need to and as well as we want. So we try to say exactly what things can make a difference.”
The Commission chose the word ‘blueprint’ for a specific reason: to offer colleagues concrete ideas on how to improve outcomes through specific types of interventions and reforms. “It’s not just theoretical,” Snyder said. “We’re trying to show real-world examples of how this can be done at different research universities across the country.”
For example, by advocating that all students receive an education that combines career preparation, liberal arts and a solid foundation of general education, they highlight the work of Purdue University cornerstone program that aims to do just that.
In today’s world, you cannot be a great institution unless you are also a just, inclusive institution.
In terms of access and affordability, a crucial part of the equation, according to the report, is getting through full-time students in four years — without the excessive course load or summer work that poses challenges for low- and middle-income students. However, this requires a review of many aspects of the curriculum and starts with analyzing data on how students move through each degree to identify where equity gaps exist.
Courses notorious for weeding out students, those with high rates of Ds, Fs, and dropouts, complex sequences of prerequisites, and majors with so many requirements that students have to carry heavy courseloads or spend more time enrolling,” encourage all ‘self-selection’ hides deeper forms of discrimination, among other obstacles to excellent education,” the report says. It highlights the work of several universities and programs aimed at making such paths clearer.
Make educational reform the norm
In the area of classroom reform, the report outlines a number of strategies that have been shown to lead to better outcomes. This includes using low-stakes assignments and “flipping” classrooms so that meeting time is focused on group discussions and problem-solving.
Although many faculty members have used such techniques for years with notable success, the report says these approaches are not yet a professional standard. “You can still walk into a classroom where you haven’t thought about inclusive education,” it says. “Faculties do not routinely check each other’s knowledge of German research in pedagogy, course design and integrative practices. The systematic adoption of such practices remains elusive, failing to realize their full benefits for equity and excellence.”
Despite these limited advances, the authors remain optimistic that the cultural and structural changes needed for widespread adoption can take place.
“We suggest that there is a tremendous body 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 an evidence-based group of institutions. We produce this research and literature. Now we need to apply it broadly.”
Another area of concern is the differential use of high-impact practices. It’s a collection of activities — including undergraduate research, internships, and study abroad programs — that reformers have long claimed increase student engagement and stamina. According to the report, research shows that black and Hispanic students who participate in high-impact exercises in their freshman year make greater gains in retention and grades than white students.
Still, “significant barriers to equal access remain,” the report says. For example, in the 2019 National Survey of Student Engagement, 51 percent of white students reported taking part in an internship, compared to 40 percent of black students. Lack of time, money and awareness are some of the reasons why students do not participate in effective exercises.
Breaking down or removing barriers—for example, by embedding experiential learning in coursework—is critical to closing these gaps. When he was president of Michigan State University, McPherson found that the institution was able to significantly increase the percentage of students studying abroad by creating more short-term programs and finding other ways to reduce costs and improve accessibility. Similarly, Snyder said universities could work with companies to ensure the internships they offer are paid.
Leadership is critical to the success of change, the report concludes. But leaders should ensure that reform is a team effort: it should strengthen departments, involve students, and draw on the expertise of support units such as centers for teaching and learning and institutional research offices. In other words, “Get involved in these reforms.”