Canada’s participation rates in higher education have been climbing steadily for years, but what’s the quality of that education? It’s both an existential and practical debate that has been growing steadily along with participation rates.
A recent commentary in the Education Policy Institute’s newsletter by consultant Ken Snowdon makes what I think are some excellent points about the quality issue. I suppose his argument is self-evident to many, but it still needs saying:
Increasing PSE participation rates is an important part of improving investment in our human capital. But in an era when many countries are investing heavily in all aspects of higher education, the provincial and federal government commitment to quality higher education must be strengthened. It is the quality of our graduates that will set Canada apart in the 21st century.
I particularly liked Mr. Snowden’s list of six factors which, he says, according to the literature contribute most to student success. I challenge anyone to come up with a better list:
- Student involvement in the academic and non-academic systems of an institution;
- The nature and frequency of student contact with peers and faculty members;
- Interdisciplinary or integrated core curricula that emphasize making explicit connections across courses and among ideas and disciplines;
- Pedagogies that encourage active student engagement in learning and encourage application of what is being learned in real and meaningful settings;
- Campus environments that emphasize scholarship and provide opportunities for students to encounter different kinds of people and ideas; and
- Environments that encourage and support exploration, whether intellectual or personal.
While I agree with the list, and what Mr. Snowdon has put forth, this isn’t really anything ‘new’. Research in student development over the past 30+ years by scholars like Chickering, Tinto, Schroeder, Astin, Kuh, Schuh and Whitt, has demonstrated all of these ‘conditions’ for success to be true. Kuh demonstrates through his research team’s work on the DEEP Schools project, that these conditions, in addition to many others create the context for student success. What is interesting to me is that the ‘student success discourse’ continues to develop traction in Canada as more institutions buy-in to assessment instruments like NSSE as a means to evaluate quality and effectiveness, while this conversation has been going on substantively in the US for at least the past 10 years already.