AACU Report Shows the Trends Shaping Higher Education Today

Posted By Eliana Osborn on March 10, 2016 at 1:24 pm
AACU Report Shows the Trends Shaping Higher Education Today

A new report from the Association of American Colleges and Universities examines what school leaders see as current higher education trends. The national conversation about higher education focuses on costs, the role of test scores in admissions, and diversity issues. The AACU survey looks at things from the perspective of teaching and learning.

Three trends emerged across both two and four-year campuses:

Common learning outcomes

More schools have common learning outcomes than in 2008. Eighty-five percent of chief academic officers (CAOs) report having these goals for all students, and 70 percent are tracking this data. Though, students are not any more aware of these learning outcomes, though, than they were in earlier studies.

Learning outcomes haven’t changed a lot though there is greater emphasis on research skills. Less than half of schools are including technology usage in their LO’s, possibly because it is moot at this point, where students are already coming in savvy in these skills.

Ninety-nine percent of colleges and universities focus on written communication in their LO’s. Critical thinking and reasoning skills are also almost universally included. Nearly all schools are using high impact educational practices—things with lots of research on effectiveness. These include internships, undergraduate research, practicums and supervised fieldwork, study abroad, global or world cultures studies, and service learning. Most of the time, only three of the 10 high impact practices are required for all students.

Freshman year emphasis

Nine in 10 schools offer some kind of first year experience to help students transition to college though it may only be provided to targeted populations. Sixty percent of AACU member schools require some freshman experiences for all students.

Retention of enrollees is a growing issue, especially as graduation rates impact a college’s access to federal funds. About half of surveyed schools provide first-year academic seminars, an area of innovation on many campuses.

General education redesign

Instead of gaining a broad base of knowledge, the push is for students to be able to apply and integrate information. GE is still in flux, with only 35 percent of academic leaders saying they have a clear sequence for these classes. Confusion, disconnect from a major, and other issues with general education impact student success.

The vast majority of institutions use more integrative general education designs (nearly 90 percent) and half require some sort of senior project as a culminating experience. This may be a source of change, as the AACU report notes,large majorities indicate that they would be more likely to hire a recent college graduate who has engaged in applied and project-based learning experiences.”

Digital learning continues to be important, but only one-third of schools have all instructors using digital portfolios. Campus leaders are honest about the need to improve to make all faculty use current technological advancements in their classroom.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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