ERIC Identifier: ED394441
Publication Date: 1994-00-00
Author: Gardiner, Lion F.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Higher Education Washington DC.| BBB32577 _ George Washington Univ. Washington
DC. Graduate School of Education and Human Development.
Redesigning Higher Education. Producing Dramatic Gains in
Student Learning. ERIC Digest.
Since the late 1960s and early 1970s, American colleges and universities have
been profoundly changed by the huge influx of "non-traditional" students who
have increasingly characterized our campuses--women, people of color, and
part-time and older students. Projections suggest our students will continue to
increase in diversity far into the future.
How effectively are we educating our students? The research literature of
higher education contains many valuable findings that can help us answer this
question and provide essential guidance to significantly improve our students'
What are the critical competencies and how do they develop? The skills and
dispositions most frequently identified as essential to society's economic and
democratic success by scholars and leaders in business and government include
among them the capacities for critical thinking and complex problem solving,
respect for people different from oneself, principled ethical behavior, lifelong
learning, and effective interpersonal interaction and teamwork. These crucial
skills and dispositions presuppose cognitive abilities studies have shown are
poorly developed in many college and university students.
What are the effects of our curricula? Over 90% of our 3,600 college and
universities use distribution systems of curriculum, in which students select
courses from lists Research reveals (1) men and women take significantly
different courses, (2) groups of courses are correlated with gains, or declines,
in specific competencies for groups of high and low ability students, and (3)
student outcomes are not necessarily related to required courses. Thus, research
has questioned the developmental value of distributional curricula. Types and
breadth of courses available, specific courses in the curriculum, and degree of
choice may make relatively little difference in educational outcomes, although a
true-core curriculum, found in a few institutions, can be positively associated
with many valued outcomes.
Overall, undergraduate liberal arts curricula tend to lack coherence and have
limited breadth and depth. A liberal arts emphasis, however, as compared with
more vocationally oriented curricula, can increase women's choice of gender
atypical careers and black male choice of higher prestige, typically majority
careers; reduce authoritarianism; and increase capacity for principled ethical
How effectively do our courses develop students' intellectual abilities?
Faculty aspire to develop students' thinking skills, but research consistently
shows that in practice we aim at facts and concepts in the disciplines. Although
active student involvement is necessary for learning, numerous studies of
college classrooms reveal that we tend to lecture. In addition, students may be
attending to lectures only about one-half of their time in class, and retention
of information from lectures is low. Studies suggest our methods often fail to
dislodge students' misconceptions and ensure learning of complex, abstract
concepts. Capacity for problem solving is limited by our use of inappropriately
simple practice exercises. Classroom tests often set the standard for student
learning. As with instruction, however, we tend to emphasize recall of memorized
factual information rather than intellectual challenge.
How hard do students work? Although quality of effort is key to
accomplishment, studies consistently show students generally study far less than
necessary to learn effectively. The limited evidence available on college
outcomes reveals disappointing levels of student knowledge and skill.
How does the campus climate affect our students' development? The climate of
a campus can welcome new students into what is for many an unfamiliar and
threatening culture. In many cases, however, research reveals little student
involvement with the faculty, staff, or other students, a climate of limited
intellectual stimulation, and one that tolerates widespread cheating and alcohol
abuse. Studies frequently reveal campus environments where women and minority
group members are regularly devalued and overtly discriminated against.
How well do we guide our students' development? Academic advising is widely
agreed by authorities to be a powerful tool for improving student success.
Today, high-quality advising focuses on each student's specific developmental
needs. High-quality advising is correlated with increases in students'
self-esteem, satisfaction with college, and persistence in school. Yet national
surveys reveal on most campuses, when it occurs at all, academic advising tends
to be primarily clerical in character rather than developmental, focusing as it
does on registration.
Can today's students learn? Given our students' diverse backgrounds, frequent
underpreparation, and limited academic success, with about half withdrawing
before graduation, some faculty believe many lack the ability to learn. However,
in elementary and high schools, striking success with students of modest
academic origins, and, in college, high-quality methods of instruction, both
demonstrate students' potential for high achievement. The higher the quality of
instruction, the lower the correlation between assessed student ability and the
quality of their learning.
How can we improve the quality of the student outcomes we produce? Research
now available on the student experience in colleges and universities shows we
must make substantial changes if we are to serve society's needs for highly
educated employees, citizens, and leaders. Significant steps we can take are to
develop clear missions, carefully define our intended outcomes, hold high
expectations for our students and ourselves, comprehensively assess both
students and institutions, use research on student learning and organizations,
integrate our curricula, systematically design instruction that will involve
students actively at every point, teach students how to learn, develop a campus
climate that challenges and supports each person, and ensure each student has
high-quality developmental academic advising.
Our widespread problems in enabling all our students to succeed require
vigorous, systemic responses. Research on student development, coupled with
modern educational methods and quality improvement principles, can enable us for
the first time in human history to educate all of the people to a high level.
Graduate schools will have to provide thorough, demanding professional training
as educators for the future faculty, and the current professoriate will require
significant assistance in developing the diverse professional knowledge and
skills now required to educate our students. Professionally prepared and
accountable leadership and faculty can develop a more positive and supportive
culture on campus, build community and improve faculty and staff morale, and
produce the high quality results society now urgently needs and is asking us to
Astin, A.W. 1993. What Matters in
College? Four Critical Years Revisited. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Barton, P.E., and A. LaPointe, 1995. Learning by Degrees: Indicators of
Performance in Higher Education. Princeton, N.J.: Educational Testing Service,
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Findings and Insights from Twenty Years of Research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Rest, J.R., and D. Narvaez. eds. 1994. Moral Development in the Professions:
Psychology and Applied Ethics. Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum.
Seymour, D. 1992. On Q: Causing Quality in Higher Education. New York:
American Council on Education-Macmillan.
Winston, R. B., Jr., T. K. Miller, S. C. Ender, T. J. Grites, and Associates,
eds. 1984.Developmental Academic Advising. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
This ERIC digest is based on a full-length report in the ASHE-ERIC Higher
Education Report series 94-7, Redesigning Higher Education: Producing Dramatic
Gains In Student Learning by Lion D. Gardiner.