For Immediate Release

David Tritelli
Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs
202-888-0811 (office)

College Leaders Embrace High-Impact Practices to Address Equity Gaps, but Give More Attention to First-Year Experiences Than to the Entire Educational Pathway or to Tracking Learning Outcomes, New National Survey Reveals

Findings from Survey of AAC&U Chief Academic Officers to Be Featured at Centennial Forum on November 17th, “Bringing Quality and Equity Together”

Nov 16, 2015

Washington, DC—The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) announces the release today of the first of three planned reports highlighting findings from a national survey of chief academic officers (CAOs).  The initial report, “Bringing Equity and Quality Learning Together: Institutional Priorities for Tracking and Advancing Underserved Students’ Success,” highlights findings from both the national survey and from structured interviews related to goal-setting and priorities for diversity, equity, and student success in both completing degrees and achieving key learning outcomes.

“In announcing AAC&U’s Centennial Year focus on equity and inclusive excellence, I noted the urgent need for stronger leadership and increased campus action to bring together campus work on equity with work on improving the quality of college learning outcomes to ensure all students’ long-term flourishing and success,” said AAC&U President Carol Geary Schneider.  “The findings we are releasing today from our member survey confirm the need for bold leadership.  Our members clearly care about student success—and about closing equity gaps.  But they are giving more attention to first-year experiences than to the entire educational pathway.”

Key Selected Findings:

  • 85 percent of CAOs report that their institution has a common set of intended learning outcomes that apply to all students.  In an earlier 2008 survey, only 78 percent reported having common learning outcomes.
  • 70 percent of CAOs report that the institution is tracking students’ achievement of their shared learning goals.
  • CAOs clearly see the value in several evidence-based interventions and high-impact educational practices to advance student success in both attaining degrees and meeting learning goals.  Of 10 high-impact interventions tested, however, there are only three that a majority of institutions require for all of their students.  These include: first-year experiences that support the transition to college, first-year academic seminars, and global or world culture studies.  Other practices that evidence shows have a positive impact especially for traditionally underserved students such as service learning or undergraduate research are offered by many institutions, but are rarely required.
  • All institutions are tracking students’ graduation and retention rates and more than 80 percent are disaggregating their data by students’ racial/ethnic background, their income level, and/or their parents’ level of education.
  • More than 70 percent are tracking students’ participation in high-impact practices, their completion of specific credit/course milestones, and their achievement of learning outcomes.  However, very few are disaggregating this data by race/ethnicity, income, or parents’ level of education.  Only 17 percent are disaggregating their data on how well specific groups of students are achieving key learning outcomes.
  • In-depth interviews reveal that many of the ways in which AAC&U member institutions are advancing the success of traditionally underserved students are embedded within their broader efforts to advance success of all students through the implementation and expansion of availability of high-impact practices.
  • About one-third of AAC&U member institutions have specific goals aimed at building new opportunities for high-impact learning for first-generation students, low-income students, and/or students of color.  Another 37 percent do not have these goals, but are planning to develop them.
  • More than four in ten AAC&U member institutions have programs designed to build faculty, instructor, and staff capacity to use culturally competent teaching and program strategies to be more successful with students from traditionally underserved backgrounds; another 35 percent are planning to develop such programs.

“If our nation is to continue to prosper, men and women of all income levels and colors need the benefits that come with high-quality higher education experiences,” said Lorenzo L. Esters, USA Funds Senior Program Director. “Unfortunately, the college completion and achievement gaps between the haves and have-nots have been growing, not shrinking. In keeping with our focus on Completion With a Purpose to promote college and career success for all students, USA Funds is pleased to support this research and to advance more effective ways to ensure the success of low-income, minority and first-generation students, and adult learners.”

This initial report was released in connection with the fourth and final forum sponsored as part of AAC&U’s Centennial Year focus on equity and inclusive excellence.  The event, “Bringing Quality and Equity Together: Mapping Guided Pathways for First Generation Student Success” is scheduled for November 17 at the Wyndham New Yorker Hotel in New York City. It will bring together educational, policy, and foundation leaders to examine the learning all college students need to thrive in a knowledge economy and to participate actively and responsibly in a diverse and global society. Participants also will examine the sobering evidence that both completion levels and access to quality learning remain highly stratified across income and race/ethnicity. You can find a program for the event online.

Find the full report online, see:

Two additional reports with findings from the national survey will be released in January and February of 2016.

The survey was supported in part with funds from USA Funds as part of its support of AAC&U’s newest Making Excellence Inclusive initiative, “Committing to Equity and Inclusive Excellence.”

Note on Methodology

From July 15, to October 13, 2015, Hart Research Associates conducted an online survey among 325 Chief Academic Officers or designated representatives at AAC&U member institutions to measure the prevalence of specified learning outcomes in higher education institutions today and to document priorities and trends in undergraduate education. The margin of error is ±4.4 percentage points for the entire sample, and it is larger for subgroups. The total population for the survey included 1,001 AAC&U member institutions—including 2-year and 4-year, public and private institutions that were invited to complete the survey, and thus the response rate for the survey is 32 percent. 

Additionally, from August 4 to September 24, 2015, Hart Research Associates conducted 14 in-depth interviews (IDIs) with higher education leaders who completed the online survey. Individuals were invited to participate in the interview based on their responses to survey questions about tracking and goal-setting related to diversity and equity. The discussions were designed to provide a deeper understanding of how diverse institutions are focusing on advancing equity and closing attainment and achievement gaps.

About AAC&U

AAC&U is the leading national association concerned with the quality, vitality, and public standing of undergraduate liberal education. Its members are committed to extending the advantages of a liberal education to all students, regardless of academic specialization or intended career. Founded in 1915, AAC&U now comprises more than 1,300 member institutions—including accredited public and private colleges, community colleges, research universities, and comprehensive universities of every type and size.

AAC&U functions as a catalyst and facilitator, forging links among presidents, administrators, and faculty members who are engaged in institutional and curricular planning. Its mission is to reinforce the collective commitment to liberal education and inclusive excellence at both the national and local levels, and to help individual institutions keep the quality of student learning at the core of their work as they evolve to meet new economic and social challenges.

Information about AAC&U membership, programs, and publications can be found at

About USA Funds

USA Funds is a nonprofit corporation that supports Completion With a PurposeSM, building a more purposeful path for America’s students to and through college and on to rewarding careers and successful lives. USA Funds pursues its nonprofit mission through philanthropic activities and partnerships, policy research, and programs and services that enhance preparation for, access to and success in higher education. Learn more at