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Experts Call for New Higher Education Research Agenda

Experts Call for New Higher Education Research Agenda


Although more people than ever have access to American institutions of higher learning, a new report says research is needed to examine what educational programs are offered at colleges and what students actually learn.

The 25-page essay, entitled “Beyond Dead Reckoning: Research Priorities for Redirecting American Higher Education,” is published by the National Center for Postsecondary Improvement (NCPI) headquartered at Stanford University. The report poses a fundamental question: More people have access, but access to what?

“We think that many policy-makers look at initial enrollments as the minimum threshold for access,” says Dr. Patricia Gumport, associate professor of education and the center’s executive director. “What we’re saying is, ‘That’s not enough.’ You have to follow people through (college) to see what happens once they get in the door.”

While the paper does not offer specific policy proposals, it asks probing questions to help set a new agenda for higher education research. “We are trying to create a sense of urgency in how well colleges and universities are meeting diverse needs and changing expectations,” Gumport says. “We don’t want this (research) to be put on a shelf and gather dust.”

In preparing the report, Gumport and her colleagues consulted with a broad range of policy and institutional experts, and organized a series of national roundtable discussions. The work also draws from NCPI’s policy seminars and focus groups held during the last six years.

The report notes that colleges and universities today serve a very different undergraduate student body from the one they were designed to accommodate three decades ago.

According to U.S. Department of Education data, the proportion of high school graduates going directly to college increased from 49 to 62 percent between 1972 and 1995.

Today, more students come from a wider range of socio economic, ethnic and racial groups, and they enter with different levels of academic preparation. Despite such broad shifts, the core practices of education remain essentially unchanged.

For more information visit the NCPI Web site at .

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