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News & Media

APLU & USU Launch Free Online Course to Spur Broader University Transformation

June 13, 2022

Washington, DC – Seeking to spur key, systemic changes on campuses to boost equitable student success across the higher education sector, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU) today launched an open-access online course aimed at guiding higher education faculty, staff, and leaders through vital elements of institutional transformation. The course draws on the lessons of nearly six years of intensive examination of the process of institutional transformation at three public urban research universities, Florida International University, Georgia State University-Perimeter College, and Portland State University, as part of the Frontier Set project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

[Access the Course: Principles of Institutional Transformation]

“We’re thrilled to launch a resource that will help support the scaling of institutional transformation at universities across the country,” said Andréa Rodriguez, Director at USU and APLU’s Office of Urban Initiatives. “Institutional transformation is something nearly every institution grapples with, but there have been few robust resources to guide leaders on that journey to date. We’re excited to share lessons, rooted in the experiences at institutions on the forefront of this change, on how to engage and drive institutional transformation on any campus.”

The course has three modules focusing on laying the groundwork for institutional transformation, the essential elements of institutional transformation, and institutional transformation in practice. It covers core concepts such as resilience, data-informed practices, student experience design, leadership, communities of practice, continuous improvement, teach and learning, culture, and stewardship of community. Additionally, the course covers topics such as causes of transformation, individuals’ contributions to transformation, costs to transformation, and risks to transformation.

Those who access the online course are promoted to reflect on the state of and potential for transformation on their campus throughout the process. The course also provides examples of responses drawn from nearly 20 other institutions that piloted the course.

Information on the Transformation Journeys on Which the Course is Based

Navigating Performance-Based State Funding
Nearly 30 states have some form of performance-based state funding (PBF) formula, tying state funding to student outcomes such as graduation, retention, and costs to students. Such funding models can create challenges for institutions seeking to prioritize equity or serve as open-access institutions where students of varying levels of preparation enroll. As it grappled with the impact of a transition to a performance-based funding model, Florida International University made clear that its primary mission involved advancing equity and serving as an anchor institution improving wellbeing in its community – even as the university aligned its operations with new state-defined metrics.

[In-Depth Case Study: Florida International University’s Path to Transformation through a State Performance-based Funding Model]

Florida International University responded to state PBF metrics while simultaneously defining its own goals related to social mobility and accessibility. Throughout the transition, Florida International University advanced institutional transformation through data-driven decision making, innovation in teaching and learning, and creating new pathways for student success. To achieve this vision, the university developed a coordinated university-wide mission with transformation efforts undertaken at the departmental level. This approach allowed the university to use the shift to performance-based funding as an opportunity to deepen collaboration across the institution. View an in-depth case study.

Navigating an Institutional Merger
Mergers of institutions of higher education can present major challenges, with research showing increased job-related stress, high turnover, and decreased commitment among faculty amid such change. Georgia State, which merged with Georgia Perimeter College in 2016, has worked to overcome these challenges in part by recognizing and appreciating differences between the two institutions going into the merger as they ultimately worked to forge a shared commitment to meeting equity and student success goals.

[In Depth Case Study: Georgia State University’s Path to Transformation Amid a University Merger]

As Georgia State University and Georgia Perimeter advanced their merger, Georgia State gathered and incorporated feedback from faculty, students, and staff to inform the consolidation process. Georgia State also monitored and guided the transition with data to monitor the impact on student outcomes, faculty satisfaction, and community impact. Key to its long-term success was the clear vision and plan Georgia State adopted for scaling student success initiatives to all campuses.

Navigating Leadership Transition The average term of university presidents continues to decline, with the average term lasting less than seven years. Such transitions present major challenges to advancing and sustaining transformational change on campus. Portland State University overcame leadership transition by adopting a student-centered approach to its transformation projects.

[In-Depth Case Study: Portland State University’s Path to Transformation through Leadership Transition]

When designing programs focused on institutional transformation such as the PSU Futures Collaboratory, the university’s Students First initiative, and its ReTHINK PSU initiative, the university intentionally embedded the student voice throughout phases of the programs’ development and execution. Additionally, Portland State University recognized the importance of putting faculty, staff, and students at the heart of the transformation process, capturing data to measure progress, and acknowledging and accepting the near-term costs of transformation.

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