Ensuring the Value of US Higher Education

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

President Obama has called on leaders of colleges and universities across the country to make sure that we are providing value to all the nation's students. He notes especially the importance of showing that higher education is providing meaningful opportunities to students from groups that traditionally have been underserved at all levels of the US education system, including postsecondary education.

AAC&U endorses the broad purpose of the president’s call to action. We actively support the ongoing national effort to help many more students enroll and succeed in college. We will continue to provide evidence about educational practices that effectively promote both college completion and student achievement of twenty-first-century learning outcomes. Our members have been leaders in tackling the affordability challenge. But we also believe that the United States needs a far more searching exploration of “value” than the administration has proposed.

As our recently released strategic plan makes clear, AAC&U is working now to build a contemporary framework for quality that is focused on essential learning outcomes, educational practices that lead to these outcomes, greater equity in access to excellence, and intentionality in generating evidence of achievement based on students' best work. We seek to provide meaningful metrics both for "value" and for "inclusive excellence" that are squarely focused on learning—the learning all students need for success in a complex economy and for informed participation as citizens in a diverse and globally engaged democracy. The intended "VALUE framework"1 can complement the administration’s efforts to report low-income student participation levels, graduation rates, loan default rates, and other socioeconomic indicators.

AAC&U further encourages a strong and unwavering focus on the nation's most powerful form of postsecondary learning, which is liberal education. In our recently released statement on diversity, equity, and inclusive excellence, this board has already affirmed the commitment to provide all students with a high-quality liberal education:

Our society must break free of earlier views that an excellent liberal education should be reserved for the few. Instead we insist that liberal education should be an expectation for all college students. Increasing college access and degree completion for all is necessary but insufficient to foster the growth of an educated citizenry for our globally engaged democracy. We need to define student success not exclusively as degree attainment, but also as the achievement of the primary goals of liberal education: broad and in-depth knowledge, the capacity to integrate and apply learning to new situations, and the intellectual creativity and resilience to face challenges.

This form of learning can and should be advanced across all fields of study: career, professional, and technical fields, as well as the liberal arts and sciences. The practices that characterize excellence in twenty-first-century liberal education must be nurtured and spread to all students if our national investment in higher education is to pay dividends for students, for democracy, and for a more broadly shared prosperity.

The AAC&U board of directors is committed to working with policy leaders at all levels and with faculty on all our nation’s campuses in order to enhance educational quality and ensure the value of US higher education.

VALUE is an acronym for Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education, a multi-project, multi-year initiative launched in 2007 by AAC&U.