My research explores academic access in postsecondary education and develops evidence-based strategies to increase the success of underrepresented student populations in college. I focus on filling the gap between scholarship that analyzes academic performance problems and proposed solutions to increase student outcomes. Access programs often operate at the confluence of academic affairs, student affairs, and enrollment management. This busy intersection of interests and needs has generated considerable turbulence for these programs. My multidisciplinary academic preparation and work experiences in academic affairs, student affairs, and enrollment management afford me unique tools for this investigation.
My highest priority is building conversations that span the practitioner, researcher, and theoretician segments within the education and public policy communities. Too often these segments operate in intellectual silos, separated from one another. One element of my work disseminates best practices to the practitioners and policy makers through publications, training materials, conference presentations, training workshops, and use of new media delivery systems such as blog pages, wiki web pages, and podcasting. Another element engages in conversation with theoreticians and researchers of the real-world needs of the practitioners and the students. This translation work among these communities is essential for moving forward with a more successful approach for improving student achievement.
I employ an engaged scholarship model that collaborates with community agencies and professional groups to solve student success issues. These groups serve both as my research partners and as venues for the research studies. Engaged scholarship requires a dynamic research focus that changes through interactions between testing of hypothesizes and the needs expressed by potential consumers of the scholarship. This requires not only my observation, but also serving as an agent within the community.
Three inter-related questions drive my research, with each question providing a different context for understanding and improving student success. The first question is the largest and provides the framework for the investigation. It examines the history of access programs. The second question provides a narrower context by investigating the role that faculty members play with student outcomes. The final question is the most focused. It investigates the use of a specific academic intervention program with increasing student outcomes. The complexity of the problems with college access requires this three-tiered approach to my scholarly work.
Question #1: What is the comprehensive history of academic access in postsecondary education and does it provide lessons for the present and future? The debate about who has the right to pursue postsecondary education has been long and contentious. A major focus of my investigation documents the history of access to postsecondary education -- a subject which has been often overlooked in major historical accounts. I investigate the chronology of the debate, including the various iterations of access programs, often named compensatory or developmental education.
This research question has three components. The first is identifying the history of this topic since the founding of U.S. higher education. This reveals the historic relationships among academic access, postsecondary education, and public secondary schools. The second component reviews the present state of this topic area with policy analysis and recommendations for changes in access programs. The final component analyzes access models in other countries. This permits a comparison of the models and identification of best practices that span education systems and cultures.
One of my key works will be published through the ASHE Higher Education Report Series by Jossey-Bass. It is Access at the crossroads: Learning assistance in higher education. This report combines a comprehensive history of learning assistance in U.S. higher education, policy controversies with its use, analysis of its effectiveness, and recommended policies. This publication positions learning assistance at the crossroads of academic affairs, student affairs, and enrollment management. A challenge for access programs are the demands placed upon it by these three units and a lack of effectively responding to their needs. Scholarly work by others often is overly defensive and frequently uses deficit language when describing the students who are served (i.e., remedial students). My work provides a different approach in analysis. It concludes with a practical vision for an enhanced role by serving the entire student body more effectively at the busy intersection that access programs often operate.
I have investigated the impact of language use by access programs to describe themselves and how they operate. I served as the editor and major contributor to a glossary of developmental education and learning assistance terms to be published in the Journal of College Reading and Learning in fall 2007 at the bequest of the two largest professional associations that represent the field. This builds upon my previous publication that explored the historic roots of several key terms published during 2005 in the same journal. These works are significant because they redefine the language that frames the debate and influences the field as an essential reference by other scholars.
Another area of scholarship has been with a detailed analysis of the history of access programs. An example of this was published in 2004 through Research for Education Reform as well as others published before I joined the faculty at Minnesota. A deeper understanding of this history provides lessons from the past and recommendations for policy actions in the future.
I am analyzing institutional mission differentiation and strategic repositioning with its impact upon student access programs. Early data analysis suggests that with an increase of stratification within higher education, access options are curtailed for students who are historically-underrepresented. A trend is resistance from some community colleges with accepting additional responsibility for educating these students who are cannot be served at more 4-year institutions. This has potentially important national policy implications for student access and graduation rates.
Question #2: How can faculty members effectively teach students not only Awhat to know,@ but also Ahow to know it@ through appropriate class activities and assignments in their introductory college courses? With the growing trend of eliminating developmental-level courses at public four-year institutions, it is essential to identify models that faculty members can adopt that embed in their introductory courses the best practices of learning strategies through use of Universal Instructional Design (UID) principles. My research reveals effective methods to integrate relevant learning strategies into my history course activities that permit students to successfully adopt them for use within my course and those of other faculty members.
This scholarship has resulted in conference papers, publications, and faculty development workshops. A major publication was the book devoted to exploring the role of the old General College with academic access at the University of Minnesota. I served both as co-editor and co-authored several chapters within the book. In Integrating best practices of developmental education in introductory history courses, David Ghere and I extended this scholarship through a book chapter that applies the principles of Universal Design for Instruction within our history courses. We seek to reduce barriers for all students, not just those with disabilities. An important work that illustrates an understanding of the theories that guide best practices is one that I coauthored with Higbee and Lundell in 2005 published by Jossey-Bass. The growing diversity of the student body requires relevant educational theories to understand student behaviors and guide effective learning practices.
I am currently investigating the use of instructional technologies with improving student engagement and learning outcomes. Since fall 2006 I have been experimenting with Internet wiki web pages and podcasting. I am investigating the impact of student use of these tools to co-create course curriculum materials and learning spaces. The data has been analyzed and is being prepared for submission.
Question #3: What are the critical components that are needed to create a new, more powerful and relevant postsecondary peer cooperative learning model? For more than a decade I designed a training curriculum, conducted research, wrote descriptive and research-based publications, and conducted workshops to train more than 400 colleges in the U.S. and in other countries to implement the Supplemental Instruction (SI) academic intervention program. There is an urgent need to develop a new peer learning model based upon emerging theories for a more diverse student body. Deeper investigations are needed to explore help seeking behaviors of students regarding their voluntary use of services such as advising, counseling, and peer tutoring. This will require deconstruction, analysis, and development of new programs. Too often the students who could most benefit from services do not use the resources and quietly drop out of the institution. In the past few years several of my publications have focused on identifying a systemic approach in this area.
Having served as editor and lead author of national standards for peer learning programs, I am collaborating with colleagues at the University and nationally to develop a 21st century peer-led cooperative learning model. These peer learning standards have been recently revised by a team led by me and have been accepted for publication. A systematic evaluation model accompanies these standards to guide the field towards more rigorous and uniform evaluation of program and student outcomes. This scholarship is informed by best practices from other national peer cooperative learning assistance programs and my prior experience with directing research and national dissemination of the Supplemental Instruction learning model. As a result of my prior scholarship and experiences, a pilot model for a new approach is being field tested at the University of Minnesota. It is called Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) Groups and is part of the University’s SMART Learning Commons.
Engaged Scholarship with Community Partners
I deeply embrace public engagement as part of my responsibility as a University faculty member to collaborate with the community in creating and disseminating new scholarship. The new model of public engagement empowers the community to shape our research agenda and thus in turn enabling scholarship to more quickly test and implement new evidence-based practices that are responsive to real-time needs. The community is more than just a learning laboratory in which I study, it is an active partner that helps to guide and inspire me.
My longest working relationship is with the Association of Minnesota Community and Technical College Counselors which is composed of members throughout the 40 institutions within the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system. A practical product for the association has been the creation of research-based training materials for improving student persistence on their campuses. Since arriving in 2002, I have worked with the Twin Cities TRiO Association which has afforded a venue to test and refine training materials for student study group leaders in the Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) program that is being pilot tested at the University and other institutions in Minnesota.
Long-Term Research and Dissemination
It is clear that solutions to important issues of access and student success will require a multidisciplinary approach with sustained effort. I have cultivated working relationships with national leaders to explore deeper ties of traditional academic access approaches with culture, cognition, and motivation. These connections are essential to continue and expand my investigations and collaborations with others.
I will build on the work of my ASHE Higher Education Report on learning assistance by extending critical analysis of institutional and public policy and provide evidence-based recommendations for changes in delivery of college access programs The U.S. approach to academic access needs to be better informed by successful models in other countries. An in-depth comparative investigation will identity best practices that transcend political boundaries and cultures. The foundations for these and other projects are already laid through current research and recent publications.
In addition to traditional scholarly venues for print publications, I will continue my efforts with alternative scholarship delivery systems for increasing national and international impact with my work. This includes more conference presentations and training workshops. A network of related Internet podcast shows would reach professionals and student paraprofessionals with evidence-based best practices that will eventually be reported through more traditional scholarly print venues.
Another example of an alternative dissemination of scholarship is a plan shared by me and other colleagues to create a nonprofit educational clearinghouse of evidence-based practices. The focus would be on practices that increase college student graduation rates. For example, I would contribute the Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) program described earlier in this document. The clearinghouse would engage in three activities: (a) identification of potential practices, (b) validation that such practices actually contribute to higher student outcomes through research and evaluation studies, and (c) dissemination of the practices through Web-delivered information (documents, training materials, video, podcasts, and webinars) and national training workshops.
My research explores academic access in postsecondary education and develops evidence-based strategies to increase the success of underrepresented student populations in college. Using an engaged scholarship approach requires testing and implementation of the scholarly findings with community partners. This provides an essential grounding for the scholarship and positions it for more effective dissemination and influence. This research seeks to illuminate more fully this area which exists at the crossroads of major forces within postsecondary education.
I have chosen to use a variety of venues for dissemination of my work. Dating back to the start of my professional career in 1979, I have authored or coauthored nearly 175 peer and nonpeer-reviewed publications. During the past 5 years, one or more of my works have appeared in publications with a total circulation in excess of 65,000. Since 1979 I have been a conference keynote speaker, concurrent paper presenter, and workshop facilitator more than 350 times. These include both invited and peer reviewed conference presentations and training workshops in the U.S., England, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Sweden. The multi-day workshops that I conducted have trained faculty and staff members from more than 400 postsecondary institutions to implement evidence-based practices to increase college student academic achievement and graduation rates. My blog and Web pages are visited nearly 7,500 times annually. Another way of evaluating my scholarly impact is through nearly 325 citations of my published work one or more times in other publications. Nearly 20 percent of these citations are from authors or publications outside the U.S. If the old saying is true that the past is prologue, my future work will continue to make a significant contribution.