For Immediate Release

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

AAC&U Launches Initiatives to Advance Transformative Change in General Education and Student Learning Assessment

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to Support Twin Initiatives Designed to Improve and Document the Quality of Student Learning in College, Emphasizing What Students Can Do With Their Knowledge

Nov 14, 2013

Washington, DC—The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) announced today that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded the organization a $2,305,000 grant to support initial work on two initiatives designed to significantly improve the quality of undergraduate education and increase student success.

AAC&U will launch on December 1, 2013 two far-reaching educational change efforts—GEMs (General Education Maps and Markers) and VALUE (Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education). The new projects will lay the groundwork for a cornerstone to capstone “remapping” of general education, and for a new approach to quality assurance that moves students’ own work to the center of educational assessment and accountability. Both projects are part of AAC&U’s ongoing LEAP initiative (Liberal Education and America’s Promise), which works to make the most powerful forms of learning a resource for all college students and which challenges the trend toward broad learning for some students and narrower learning for many others.

“We all know that we have entered an era of far-reaching change in higher education,” said AAC&U Board Chair Mildred García, president of California State University, Fullerton. “The question before us is whether we can seize the potential of the digital revolution to advance forms of learning—combining high tech and high touch—that prepare all students to grapple successfully with complex questions and problems—the kind of problems our graduates will certainly encounter in their lives as workers, citizens, and leaders. We want to connect general education with twenty-first century challenges and realities, including the reality that the typical U.S. student now studies at more than one campus on his or her way to a degree. We also want to ensure, through the VALUE initiative, that students are developing demonstrable proficiency on key learning outcomes—such as writing and quantitative reasoning—that every educator and every employer considers essential. GEMs and VALUE will chart new ways to make excellence inclusive. AAC&U is proud to help lead this visionary work.”

Recognizing general education as an American signature in need of revitalization, GEMs will map twenty-first century pathways for high-quality broad and integrative learning that align across institutions and systems. To inform this redesign, GEMs will synthesize emerging research on “what works” in online learning and in face-to-face learning to support both higher levels of student persistence and higher levels of demonstrated student achievement of key learning outcomes. GEMs will give special attention to the needs of students who have traditionally been underserved in higher education and who are, today, the fastest growing college-eligible part of U.S. society. It will also address the needs of adult learners who often braid together work and learning while pursuing a degree.

VALUE, in turn, will develop protocols and platforms for using students’ own authentic work—sampled “across the curriculum” to see how well students are developing the intellectual skills and knowledge they need to deal with open-ended questions and problems—problems to which the “right answer” is not already known.

“AAC&U is especially pleased that GEMs will be keyed to the Degree Qualifications Profile (DQP), which AAC&U and I helped Lumina Foundation both develop and field-test with some 300 cooperating colleges, universities, and community colleges,” said AAC&U President Carol Geary Schneider. “The old ‘breadth’ first and specialization second approach to general education is seriously out of date and the DQP maps a way to make general education more integrative and more educationally effective, from first to the final year of college. Many institutions and some systems have already put such ‘vertical’ approaches to general education in place, and GEMs will be further informed by their work. AAC&U’s mission is to advance and strengthen liberal education and to make educational excellence inclusive rather than exclusive. Developing a twenty-first century framework for students’ broad and integrative learning and for their development of Essential Learning Outcomes is a key step toward fulfilling that mission.”

More about the GEMs Initiative

GEMs will study and learn from innovative approaches to general education that many educational institutions already have pioneered. Through working groups involving educational leaders and scholars, GEMs will map recommended general education pathways built on insights from leading campus examples, the best research about what works to advance student learning outcomes, and the latest evidence about technological innovations that help students learn more effectively. GEMs will focus particular attention on what works to support traditionally underserved students’ persistence and achievement of important learning outcomes and will utilize the emerging evidence that carefully guided curricular pathways work far better than disconnected courses in supporting student success.

“This grant will support an area of educational reform that is essential as a companion to the focus on student completion and increasing efficiency of degree production,” said AAC&U Vice President David Paris, who will direct the GEMs initiative at AAC&U. “This project recognizes that general education in the liberal arts and sciences remains critical to ensuring the quality of undergraduate education and is designed with today’s increasingly mobile students centrally in view. GEMs will focus on the necessary linkage of increased transfer and persistence rates with higher levels of demonstrated student achievement.”

More about the VALUE Initiative

With this grant, AAC&U will expand its ongoing VALUE Initiative—originally launched in 2007 with support from the US Department of Education and the State Farm Companies Foundation. This first phase of VALUE work resulted in the publication of 16 faculty-developed and tested rubrics that are aligned with the LEAP Essential Learning Outcomes and also with the intellectual skills highlighted in the Degree Qualifications Profile. Nearly 2,000 colleges and universities and community colleges in the U.S. already are using VALUE rubrics to assess student work.

In this next phase of VALUE, AAC&U will work with the recently launched Multi-State Collaborative on Learning Outcomes Assessment—a partnership among the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) and nine state systems—to lay the foundation and create protocols and parameters for a potentially scalable new approach to assessment. In collaboration with the SHEEO Multi-State Collaborative, along with a locally organized coalition of private and public universities in Minnesota, and other private AAC&U member colleges, the project will develop a new assessment and accountability approach based on faculty judgments of students’ own best work as evaluated using common VALUE rubrics.

With the Multi-State Collaborative, VALUE will develop:

  • A methodology for ensuring reliability and validity of the results of VALUE rubrics to assess broad, cross-cutting outcomes such as written communication, quantitative reasoning, and critical thinking;
  • Protocols for collecting and processing data from the use of rubric-based assessments; and
  • A VALUE online national database of student work—and a method for assessing and reporting data from faculty assessment of that work—from nine state systems and an additional cohort of private institutions.

“I am delighted that this grant will allow us to build a firm foundation for reliable and valid use of the VALUE assessment approach that foregrounds faculty judgment and students’ authentic work,” said AAC&U Vice President Terrel Rhodes, who will lead the VALUE initiative at AAC&U. “This new focus on placing the quality of students’ demonstrated capacities at the center of assessment metrics will create a positive sea change in practice and policy in higher education.”

Leadership in organizing VALUE came through the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, which, as part of its Vision Project, piloted use of AAC&U’s VALUE rubrics to assess student learning in Massachusetts. Working with AAC&U and SHEEO, leaders in Massachusetts helped organize a nine state collaboration that is developing platforms and protocols for scaling the use of this approach to quality assurance.

For more information, see General Education Maps and Markers and VALUE.