Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Foundations, Higher-Education Leaders Explore Models to Increase Access

/PRNewswire/ -- On this historic campus that is the original nineteenth-century home of Emory University, twenty invitees representing some of higher education's most respected institutions have come together to discuss an issue with important implications for U.S. education in the twenty-first century: how to make higher education available more broadly and equitably to current underrepresented groups while also maintaining academic excellence and addressing financial and policy concerns. The conference, "Transformative Models in Higher Education," was organized by the University of Michigan's Center for Advancing Research & Solutions for Society (CARSS), hosted by Emory University and funded by the Ford Foundation.

Groups participating in the conference, held June 18-19, were education researchers, higher-education administrators and foundations with a strong focus on education. Researchers came from the University of Michigan's CARSS, School of Education, Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education and the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching; the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education; Indiana University's National Survey of Student Engagement; and Wabash College's Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts. MDRC, a nonprofit education and social-policy research organization, was also represented. Higher-education administrators and foundations represented included the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Educational Testing Service, Lumina Foundation, Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and the National Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good. Also participating in the conference was Derek Bok, president emeritus of Harvard University, who gave the keynote address.

The focus of consideration was organizational and programmatic models that have fostered high levels of participation and academic success for students from underrepresented minority populations with the goal of identifying "active ingredients" in the programs' success. These were being examined in part because, following the 2003 Supreme Court decision in a case involving the University of Michigan, criteria used to promote minority participation in the past will not be as applicable in the future. The models presented included Lone Star College-CyFair Campus (Texas), the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill's C-STEP Program, the Posse Foundation and Oxford College.

Special attention was given to Emory's Oxford College. Located 38 miles east of Emory University's Atlanta campus, Oxford is one of Emory's nine academic divisions. One-fifth of the students in each Emory freshman class choose to begin their baccalaureate studies with Oxford's liberal-arts-intensive program, which spans their freshman and sophomore years. As juniors, they continue their studies on Emory's Atlanta campus. At Oxford, students have a smaller student body (approximately 750 students total), lower average class sizes (approximately 19) and faculty who, in the absence of academic majors and graduate programs, have the luxury of focusing primarily on classroom teaching. Forty-seven percent of students at Oxford come from minority populations, and many are the first in their family to attend college. These students enjoy high levels of academic success and degree completion at Emory. Oxford places great importance on teaching methods that produce active, engaged learning and, as a two-year course of study, offers unusual leadership opportunities for freshmen and sophomores.

"We were honored to assemble such a stellar group," said Earl Lewis, Emory University provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, who convened the conference. "Their discussion of the Oxford College program gave us invaluable feedback and analysis, and their enthusiasm helps fuel our efforts to make this now-unique model better known."

Conferees concluded that the Oxford model could be applied or adapted at a large number of research institutions. Organizers from CARSS are distilling the conclusions from the conference with the intention of identifying the possibilities for applying existing models and developing new ones.

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