Throughout its history, the United States has asked much of higher education: to prepare leaders, train employees, provide the creative base for scientific and artistic discovery, transmit past culture, create new knowledge, redress the legacies of discrimination, and ensure continuation of democratic principles. The balance among these needs has shifted over time in response to many factors and will undoubtedly continue to do so.
As we enter a new millennium, we find ourselves in a turbulent time, having almost completed transformation from an industrial to a knowledge-based society. Changing times require alert self-reflection and creativity. What should be higher education's role today and for the near future? What are the central aims and essential practices of college study?
College education benefits individuals but also importantly benefits our entire nation. Unlike the single, unified system found in many other countries, we have a vibrant enterprise of private and state-supported colleges and universities. Institutions with diverse missions have flourished, from community colleges to research universities; small, rural residential colleges to large, urban comprehensive universities; church-affiliated campuses to minority-serving institutions, and everything in between. Our network of higher education spans the nation, forming a rich resource of multiple approaches for multiple audiences as the United States, more than any other country, moves toward universal participation.
Engendering self-reflection among such dispersed and varied institutions presents a particular challenge. The Association of American Colleges and Universities assumed the facilitator's role in 2000 with its initiative Greater Expectations: The Commitment to Quality as a Nation Goes to College.
At the center of Greater Expectations is an analysis of the challenges facing higher education and an honest appraisal of our successes and failures in meeting them. A broadly constituted National Panel was appointed to this task. The panel was charged with informing itself thoroughly and listening to many voices in conducting the analysis.
The panel's deliberations, summarized in this report, have led to a recommendation to rethink what we should expect from, and how we should provide, college education in the twenty-first century. The report challenges all stakeholders to unite for collective action, creating a coherent educational system designed to help all students achieve the greater expectations that are the hallmark of our time.
In its work, the panel modeled this collaborative action and the commitment to continuous learning that is a central outcome of college study. The conversations—rich and complex in the extreme—deepened the understanding of every panel member who came to see both the limitations of her or his original perspective and its contribution to a fuller picture.
Our report is organized for diverse uses and employs multiple forms of communication. Throughout the written document, stories provide examples of exciting innovations, while action steps suggest what to do next. A Web site (www.greaterexpectations.org), allied with the report, permits individuals or stakeholder groups to read or "drill down" through the text in various ways. Some may follow links to research supporting the analysis, others may seek out additional models of promising curricular practice, and still others may choose to share the executive overview with friends and colleagues.
The panel's work focuses on college-level learning in accredited institutions and on student preparation for such learning. Although the analysis is relatively complete, the complexity of the issues prevented close examination of them all. So while the financing of higher education, for example, is intimately related to quality, a thorough posing and answering of questions about funding is beyond the scope of this report.
The panel took seriously the charge of depicting problems and outlining solutions. And so it offers the vision of a New Academy built on the experiences of those very practitioners —at the collegiate and also at the secondary school level—who have begun changing what and how college students learn. Formally advising the panel were twenty-two campuses from around the country, selected for the power and scope of their improvements in undergraduate learning. This Consortium on Quality Education, part of the Greater Expectations Initiative, met repeatedly with the panel and shared new approaches to defining the purposes of an undergraduate education and to promoting learning. (See list of Consortium campuses.) To them and others who have served as leaders of the present and inspirations for the future, the panel expresses its deep admiration.
For the Greater Expectations National Panel,