I’ve spent much of this week at the annual meeting of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, along with Dean Amy Jessen-Marshall (who is doing two presentations on the program) and a team of six Sweet Briar faculty members.
In my last post I mentioned the recent faculty retreat and our ongoing discussions of curriculum review. Bringing a campus team to this conference was another aspect of that process: here there are sessions highlighting research and best practices from around the country on a wide variety of topics. One member of our team is following discussions of the Bologna Accords and the development of European learning standards: another is attending sessions on business curriculum: several are going to sessions on how to integrate research, assessment, and learning outcomes into campus planning; and all of us are going to the occasional session that just looks interesting! (For me, yesterday, that was a session about how students at elite liberal arts colleges define success. . . for a couple of members of our group yesterday afternoon, it was a session on digital humanities that is featured in this article.)
For my part, I’ve been participating in the President’s Forum. At lunch today, a representative from the Department of Education spoke with us about the education proposals just, and I mean just, announced by President Obama. As you might imagine, having the opportunity to respond to some of these proposals within a day of their announcement was valuable; the presidents who are here posed a number of important and fundamental questions.
It’s both sobering and encouraging to sit with a group of college and university presidents these days. Each and every one of us is aware of the serious problems facing higher education. College needs to be more affordable, more Americans need to complete degrees, the learning that takes place in college needs to be more clearly and persuasively demonstrated, and state and federal investments in education and research need to be commensurate with the importance of higher education to the economic future of the nation. No institution is immune from these considerable pressures — no community college, no elite research university, no liberal arts college, no comprehensive state university. And no one knows what the answers should be or will be. (That’s the sobering part.)
But every single person at this conference is deeply committed to being part of crafting the best possible answers. Every dean and faculty member here is deeply committed to making higher education the best and most meaningful experience it can be for every student on their campuses. And finally, at the end of the day, whatever the answers turn out to be, we all recognize that they will need to be centered on student learning. As long as student access and learning goals are kept at the center of our thinking, our research, and our planning, we will get to the right answers. That’s the encouraging part!