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Stanford to launch research center for improving higher education

STANFORD -- Stanford's School of Education has been selected as the location of a new National Center for Postsecondary Improvement, a five-year, $12.5-million research project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education.

Patricia Gumport, an associate professor of education whose research examines organizational change in colleges and universities, will be the principal investigator and executive director. Faculty at Stanford will collaborate with faculty at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan on a research agenda related to national and global changes in the environment for postsecondary education.

A board of senior scholars that includes four college presidents and other prominent educators will provide intellectual guidance to the researchers, whose goal is to disseminate the results to parents, students, employers, the general public and postsecondary institutions. Stanford's proposal for the center was selected from six applications.

Gumport, who received confirmation of the grant on Feb. 12, said the project may begin as early as March 1 with $800,000 that Congress already has appropriated under the current "continuing resolution" for federal government funding. If the proposal, which initially called for spending $2.5 million each year, is not fully funded in a final 1996 federal budget, Gumport said, she will work with the Department of Education to determine which portions of the planned research should go forward.

Some of the challenges that postsecondary education faces include spiraling costs and fees, increasing competition for students, and issues of access to desirable programs, she said.

While the U.S. system of higher education generally is regarded as the envy of the world, it currently faces pressure to educate more students with fewer resources, to diversify the pool of students served, and to improve transitions from schooling to work for the nation's young people, said Brian Pusser, a doctoral candidate who works with Gumport.

In his letter endorsing the research agenda, Stanford President Gerhard Casper wrote that "in this time of fiscal constraint, changing demographics and increasing demands for accountability, the center will provide a forum for national discussion on how postsecondary education leaders in the U.S. can respond effectively to these challenges."

The research falls into roughly six project areas: organizational adaptation; transitions from school to work; the relationship of student achievement to employment; professional development of educators; student learning and assessment; and improvements in quality, productivity and efficiency of postsecondary educational institutions.

Stanford researchers who are involved include:

  • Professor Henry Levin, who will apply some of the successful principles from his "accelerated" schools project to "remedial" postsecondary education;
  • Professor Lee Shulman, who is working on training and evaluation of teachers;
  • Professor Emeritus William Massy, who is studying quality and productivity in the context of cost containment and potential broader use of information technology;
  • Professor Stephen Barley, of industrial engineering, who will work on an interdisciplinary team attempting to devise better measures of how postsecondary achievement relates to employment outcomes;
  • Professor Edward Haertel, who will work on devising more reliable, validated assessments of student learning;
  • Michele Marincovich, director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, who will work with Shulman's team on postsecondary teacher training;
  • Professor Larry Cuban, who will expand his research on K-12 curriculum into the curricula of higher education;
  • Professor John Baugh, who will look at teacher preparation and retention and linkages between community colleges and universities;
  • Professor Michael Kirst, who will look at the effect of postsecondary admissions policies on secondary schools and student preparation;
  • Professor Milbrey McLaughlin, who will examine partnerships between postsecondary institutions and community-based programs that improve student success in transitions to postsecondary education;
  • Professor Emeritus James March, who will work with Gumport and Pusser on organizational adaptation to changing demands.

Richard Shavelson, dean of the Stanford School of Education, also will be involved in research and managing the center. He said that researchers at Michigan's Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education and at Penn's Institute for Research on Higher Education had demonstrated exceptional cooperation in putting together an integrated research agenda with researchers at Stanford's Institute for Higher Education Research. Gumport said staff and faculty at the three institutions worked for more than three months writing and refining a three-volume proposal that attempted to summarize what higher education research had documented and what gaps in understanding need to be addressed through carefully designed studies.

The board of senior scholars, which will meet periodically to provide advice, includes from Stanford President Emeritus Richard Lyman, Provost Condoleezza Rice and Professor Emeritus James March. Members from other institutions are David Breneman, dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia; Burton Clark, professor emeritus of the Graduate School of Education at UCLA; James Duderstadt, president of the University of Michigan; Russell Edgerton, president of the American Association for Higher Education; Bernadine Chuck Fong, president of Foothill Community College; David Gardner, president of the Hewlett Foundation and president emeritus of the University of California; Bruce Johnstone, professor at SUNY-Buffalo and former chancellor of the SUNY system; Mary Patterson McPherson, president of Bryn Mawr College; Neil Smelser, director of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford; and Blenda J. Wilson, president of California State University-Northridge.



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