Recently I had the opportunity to attend the biennial meeting of the Reinvention Center in Arlington, VA, along with Dean Richard Feldman and two other colleagues from the College. The Reinvention Center is housed at Colorado State University and is a “national consortium of research universities dedicated to strengthening undergraduate education”(from their website). It was formed in April, 2000, as a follow-up to a report issued in 1998 by a commission convened by the Carnegie Foundation to examine the state of undergraduate education in U.S. research universities. The report, entitled, “Re-inventing Undergraduate Education,” is commonly referred to as the Boyer report, in honor of Ernest Boyer, who helped to convene the Commission, whose own scholarship on education reform informed and inspired it, and who died of cancer while the Commission was meeting. The Commission’s report contained a student’s Bill of rights, and made provocative recommendations that challenged the status quo in the country’s most elite universities, as follows:
- Make Research-Based Learning the Standard
- Construct an Inquiry-based Freshman Year
- Build on the Freshman Foundation
- Remove Barriers to Interdisciplinary Education
- Link Communication Skills and Course Work
- Use Information Technology Creatively
- Culminate with a Capstone Experience
- Educate Graduate Students as Apprentice Teachers
- Change Faculty Reward Systems
- Cultivate a Sense of Community
While these recommendations may seem intuitive to us now, at the time they were received with resistance by many. As a small, private research university which had by then already created the Rochester Curriculum and the residential college structure, the University of a Rochester was–and continues to be–an exemplar of many of these recommendations. For example, our primary writing course, pre-major advising programs, Office of Undergraduate Research, workshop programs, and interdisciplinary study initiatives all embody Boyer Commission recommendations. Former College Dean Bill Green was involved in the Reivention Center in its early years, and Dean Feldman now serves on its Board of Directors.
Over 15 years since the Report was issued, its recommendations remain relevant, and continue to inspire the work of the member institutions of the Re-invention Center. The conference I attended included sessions on
- using predictive analytics to ensure student success;
- using learning science to strengthen undergraduate teaching strategies;
- integrative learning across the disciplines;
- blending co-curricular experiences.
As Director of the Rochester Center for Community Leadership, it was inspiring to be surrounded by senior leaders from research universities across the country who shared a strong interest in approaches to undergraduate education–similar to approaches that we’re helping to create through our work. Our 26-year-old tradition of Wilson Day is a prime example of the sort of community-building experience that the Boyer Commission recommended. The Rochester Urban Fellows program is a co-curricular program with significant, transformative learning outcomes for students. The Rochester Youth Year Fellowship effectively comprises a capstone experience for graduating seniors through the year-long projects that our Fellows undertake with community partner organization. And most recently, our efforts to help faculty to incorporate community-based experiences into their courses is precisely the sort of engaged teaching practice recommended by the Boyer Report and espoused by the Re-invention Center.
Innovative educational approaches such as these are what attracted me to attend the University as an undergraduate over a quarter century ago, and I believe they continue to be crucial in attracting students today. More to the point, they result in improved learning outcomes once students arrive, and successful careers, productive citizens, and rewarding personal lives long after graduating from the university. They strengthen our students, our institution and our society.