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The Urgency of Now: Equity and Excellence
Date Reviewed: June 16, 2016
All of higher education, with community colleges leading the way, must sense and respond to the need to evolve to serve a new and increasingly diverse student body. We live in an era where students will increasingly require myriad new approaches to higher education in order for every student to realize their potential (8). That is the central thesis of The Urgency of Now: Equity and Excellence, one volume in a series sponsored by the Association of Community College Trustees.
Chapter one sets forth key arguments in favor of the need to transform community colleges in response to changing student demographics. Chapter two is concerned with the shifting role of accreditation in higher education. In chapter three, the authors address the current system’s reliance upon the credit hour as a time-based model for allocating academic course credit and implore administrators to transition to competency-based models. Chapter four offers a comprehensive blueprint for creating an innovative community college-wide outcomes assessment system. Finally, chapter five targets the critical need for administrators to engage faculty in new and meaningful ways in order to successfully implement positive change that will result in improving instructor teaching and student learning.
Today there are increasing demands from public and private sector stakeholders for greater accountability and transparency by colleges and universities (19-20). Thus, “to insure equity in the form of economic opportunity for current and future generations” and to “provide demonstrable learning outcomes that position students for success,” there is an urgent need for new models. At the heart of this call for transformation is the notion that higher education must become a student-centered system rather than defaulting to the traditional faculty-centered model. Community colleges must be at the epicenter of determining what the essential ingredients of such a system should be (113).
The Urgency of Now argues that higher education must not simply react to changing demographics in America but it must embrace this phenomenon. The priority for the twenty-first century community college must be student needs and student learning (113). This will require that faculty abandon the function of serving primarily as “fountains of knowledge” and instead embrace a new role as “curators of content” and “tour guides of information” (115).
Understanding context is critical. America currently finds itself in the midst of the 2016 United States presidential election cycle. College affordability, rising student debt, and declining funding for public colleges and universities are issues now under debate by candidates for the nations\' highest political office. The election comes at a time when the gulf that exists between those students and families who lack the economic resources needed to pay college tuition versus those who can readily afford the cost of higher education continues to rise.
The Urgency of Now adds to the political discussion by identifying some of the efforts championed by U.S. president Barack Obama to increase community college enrollment and strengthen public-private partnerships that will improve employment opportunities for those who complete a certificate or degree program (5-6). One must acknowledge that, in the face of opposition from his political adversaries, Barack Obama has advanced the goal of achieving equal access to college for all Americans regardless of race, ethnicity, or socio-economic status. Readers will find that this book offers a timely contribution to public discourse on these topics of concern to many among the American electorate.
An average book informs but an outstanding book sparks self-reflection and may even compel the reader to act in new and bold ways. The Urgency of Now: Equity and Excellence is an outstanding read that is recommended for anyone concerned with the plight of higher education. This book presents reasoned arguments which support the goal of reforming community colleges chiefly as a matter of sound public policy and implicitly to further the Judeo-Christian imperative which calls for social justice.
Taking College Teaching Seriously: Pedagogy Matters!: Fostering Student Success Through Faculty-Centered Practice Improvement
Date Reviewed: May 13, 2016
The Global Skills for College Completion (GSCC) initiative, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is one of many efforts targeting the advancement of community college students, faculty, and institutions across the United States. Faculty selected to participate in the initiative taught developmental courses, documenting and analyzing pedagogical practices using Web 2.0 tools in order to facilitate communication and collaboration around teaching and learning. Regular and consistent forms of peer feedback, coaching, and reflection required participants to learn with, and from, one another. Primarily intended for college instructors, Taking College Teaching Seriously promises to broaden the impact of their faculty practice improvement model by encouraging the application of these processes by instructors of all types of courses in all institutional contexts of higher education. The value of this book for faculty lies in its accessibility and in its applicability: any faculty member, or group of faculty members of the same institution or across institutions, can easily replicate one or more of the processes described and explained in this book and so heighten their potential for acquiring some of the lessons learned.
Although there are many useful components in this engaging book, it should be recognized that in the larger context of scholarship on teaching and learning the book contributes to that body of work focused on the significance of reflection as a faculty practice. While faculty assessment is a built-in feature of college courses through peer visits and course evaluations, and a standard requirement in faculty review processes over the course of a career, faculty reflection on teaching and learning is often underemphasized and much less institutionalized. Furthermore, when faculty reflection on teaching and learning does occur, it often is an isolated practice intended to address a particular issue or recurring problem experienced in a specific course. However, the movement toward institutionalizing faculty reflection practices appears to be growing steadily and assuming a variety of forms. One form highlighted in this book is the formation of an online community of practice (24-26). Put simply, a community of practice typically serves a small group of faculty with a shared interest who agree to organize themselves around work on a common issue or goal. In some cases, the formation of a community of practice may be connected to teaching and learning initiatives at a particular institution. However, as technological practices continue to become more embedded in college curricula and teaching, the design and implementation of online communities of practice may prove more practical and more beneficial to faculty development and support. Furthermore, communities of practice may transcend disciplinary boundaries; while the faculty participating in this initiative had primary expertise in mathematics and English, such practice readily extends to those in other disciplines as well.