SHEEO Member Highlight: Setting the Stage for Student Success in Utah

David L. Buhler
Commissioner, Utah System of Higher Education

In addition to helping facilitate student success in regards to access, retention and completion, leaders in the Utah System of Higher Education (USHE) are committed to ensuring that students receive a high-quality education at Utah’s eight public colleges and universities.

What defines a high-quality education? It is defined by a focus on faculty engagement, student learning and assessment, and an importance placed on high-impact practices. USHE is involved in five initiatives that work to directly address these: Western Interstate Passport, Tuning USA, Quality Collaboratives, LEAP-Faculty Collaboratives, and the Multi-State Collaborative to Advance Learning Outcomes Assessment.

The five initiatives are and were transformative, and are central to the work of the Utah Regents, Commissioner, institution presidents, and academic leaders. They engage faculty to improve teaching practices and deepen student learning. In these initiatives, faculty worked and will continue to work collaboratively, statewide and across state lines. All five initiatives use or used high-impact practices as a strategy for teaching and learning, both for faculty and students. These practices were new to some who had to rethink their teaching strategies in order to improve student learning and assessments.

Western Interstate Passport
Academic leaders are working to make the out-of-state transfer process to colleges and universities in the region easier through the Interstate Passport Initiative, facilitated by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). The Interstate Passport Initiative is reforming transfer for students in some states in the WICHE region (CA, HI, ND, OR, SD, UT, WY) and seeks to improve graduation rates, shorten time to degree and save students money. This new approach combines multiple disciplines (which share learning outcomes) in four categories:
• Physical and Natural World (includes biology, chemistry, etc.)
• Evolving Human Cultures (includes anthropology, history, etc.)
• Human Society and the Individual (includes economics, psychology, etc.)
• Creative Expression (includes music, dance, etc.)

Students who successfully demonstrate competence in the learning outcomes of these four categories will have completed the general education requirements throughout the seven states, allowing for seamless transfer among institutions. This initiative is funded by both the Lumina Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Tuning USA
Tuning USA (Tuning), funded by the Lumina Foundation, depends upon faculty collaboration to identify student learning outcomes and competencies expected in an academic discipline through each degree level—associate, bachelor’s, and master’s. The goals of Tuning are to improve student learning and demonstration of learning through transparent and explicit learning expectations and the use of high-impact practices, developed collaboratively by faculty and informed by professional associations, practitioners and aspiring students. Utah has tuned physics, history, general education math, and elementary education. Faculty who were involved report changing how they think about their discipline and what and how they teach.

Quality Collaboratives
The Quality Collaboratives gave faculty from a community college and a university the opportunity to work together to identify learning outcomes and assessments in four lower-division general education business courses. The objective was to help create successful transfer between the two institutions and develop high-impact assessments, such as e-portfolios. In addition to these, the faculty reported taking a critical look at their own teaching practices, seeing the process as professional development. In this, faculty found the Quality Collaboratives to be transformational.  This initiative is funded by the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

LEAP – Faculty Collaboratives
The Quality Collaboratives have now morphed into the LEAP Faculty Collaboratives, funded by the Lumina Foundation and overseen by the Association of American Colleges and Universities. In this initiative, four Faculty Fellows and a “Hub” director develop curriculum to improve teaching strategies of both regular and contingent faculty who teach in general education. Utah will give a certificate to the faculty who complete the curriculum and demonstrate how they applied their learning to develop new teaching strategies in the classroom. The initiative includes an online introduction, face-to-face workshops with other faculty, and follow-up sessions delivered through the Hub website. The Hub will contain the curriculum and other relevant information intended to strengthen teaching and learning in general education, and will be linked to four other Hubs and will be available nationally. These Hubs will be located at universities in five state systems in California, Indiana, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.

Multi-State Collaborative to Advance Learning Outcomes Assessment
The Multi-State Collaborative to Advance Learning Outcomes Assessment is an experimental approach to student learning outcomes assessment. Sixty-nine institutions in ten states are participating in this pilot project. Its goals are, first, to test the validity of the AAC&U VALUE Rubrics (Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education) in two areas: written communication and quantitative literacy, both across the curriculum. Participating institutions have submitted end-of-semester authentic student work for scoring. The second goal is to answer accountability questions such as: What are our students learning and at what depth? Instead of producing only metrics, which do not fully answer accountability questions, there will be narratives—evidence—to explain the level of learning in the academic areas.

The Multi-State Collaborative has the potential to add new insights to improve faculty teaching and assessment, and to more thoroughly address accountability issues. This initiative is funded with a sub grant to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) from the Association of American Colleges and Universities (the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s grantee for the GEMs/VALUE Project).

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