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To Optimize Learning

Conjoining Self-Interest and Societal Purpose

Drawing the Strands Together

Excercising Leadership



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To Optimize Learning

The most important educational goal confronting higher education in the 21st century is to optimize learning by students and by society in general: to educate a growing, increasingly diverse set of learners to be effective and fulfilled as workers and citizens, capable of meeting new challenges they will encounter throughout their lives. To optimize learning means setting forward-looking expectations for universities and colleges, conveying the need to educate graduates for living effectively in a complex world, in terms of personal health as well as financial and social well-being. Optimized learning is that which helps strengthen democratic and civic institutions in the nation. This conception of learning extends beyond the education of students in classrooms to include higher education’s impact on societal organizations, businesses, corporations, and valuebased organizations—all made possible by a greatly expanded sense of higher education’s educational mission. To optimize learning entails an increased sense of responsibility—within the nation at large, its individual states, and in public and private institutions of higher education—to achieve learning outcomes and meet educational standards that address growing societal needs.

For institutions, optimizing learning means taking responsibility for learning and substantially raising the number of those who persist and succeed in programs of education. It means closing gaps in achievement without lowering the bar for results. In many cases succeeding in this challenge will entail rethinking the nature and content of degrees as well as their timing and mode of delivery. Optimized learning requires that institutions proceed beyond widely accepted proxies for educational excellence—which focus heavily on selectivity and resources—and set standards that assess how well institutions meet the needs of communities and the people who live in them. For states, it means rewarding behavior that fulfills public purposes. Finally, optimizing learning means that higher education comes to see itself working in conjunction with K–12 schools to achieve shared educational purposes—and in particular, to reduce leaks in the education pipeline. Though higher education cannot be placed in a position of direct responsibility for the success of primary and secondary education in this country, colleges and universities can increase the likelihood of optimized learning to the extent they see their own purposes as aligned with those of K–12 schools and work to achieve those common educational ends.