September 2018

The most significant challenge facing higher education today is a growing economic and racial segregation, and the incorporation of equity as one of AAC&U’s foundational principles reflects the ideal that access to educational excellence for all students is critical, not only for our nation’s economy but, more importantly, for the preservation of our democratic society. The equity imperative takes on new import given the emergence of industry-led earn-and-learn programs that would allow institutions to outsource the entirety of a student’s academic program to unaccredited education providers. Within the context of a growing emphasis on vocational education and competency-based programs, such maneuvers run the risk of creating an intellectual oligarchy where only the richest have access to liberal arts traditions.

In a globally interdependent, rapidly changing world, the best education that colleges and universities can offer is one in which students are prepared to think critically, communicate effectively, engage in ethical decision making, and work in diverse teams to address the complex, unscripted problems of the future. Indeed, economic growth in a postindustrial, knowledge-based global economy will require implementing curricular changes that ensure all students have equal access to high-impact practices that prepare them to thrive in the workplace and in life. These practices include first-year seminars, learning communities, writing-intensive courses, collaborative projects, undergraduate research, internships, community-based learning, capstone courses, immersion in long-term projects, and engagement with educational mentors inside and outside of the classroom. Such experiences have a disparately positive impact on underserved students with respect to self-reported gains, GPA, and retention (Finley and McNair 2013; Vande Zande, n.d.). Moreover, within-group comparisons of the relationship between participation in multiple high-impact practices and perceptions of learning indicate significant benefits among first-generation and transfer students that include gains in deep learning, practical competence, and personal and social development (Kinzie 2012).

As educators, we aim to open minds, share ideas, ignite imaginations, and guide our students toward a future we can only partially apprehend. It is good and purposeful work, made even more meaningful by the recognition that education has changed every one of us, and will continue to do so by the sheer transformational force of its possibility. Amidst increasing fragmentation and complexity, it is work that enables the students we serve to flourish fully as human beings, enriching them as individuals and as members of a community. Only by drawing attention to the persistent economic and cultural barriers that continue to undermine the equity imperative upon which the American Dream is built will we be able to fulfill the true promise of American higher education.

Excerpted with permission from A Vision for Equity: Results from AAC&U's Project "Committing to Equity and Inclusive Excellence: Campus-Based Strategies for Student Success.” Copyright 2018 by the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

With both public and private nonprofit institutions in its membership, AAC&U is focused on advancing the vitality of liberal education.

By Lynn Pasquerella, President, Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U)