American Council on Education looks to Newark Campus as a learning lab
How did Rutgers–Newark become a long-distance learning lab for 31 representatives of the nation’s higher learning institutions?
When the American Council on Education (ACE) went looking for a diverse environment that could serve as a case study for fellows in its midyear seminar, the organization tapped the urban campus. It was a match made in pedagogical heaven: Rutgers–Newark received valuable input from academics nationwide, and ACE Fellows had the advantage of studying an actual institution in real time.
“We have the opportunity to learn and grow from the ideas of the Fellows, but the Fellows also told us they had learned a great deal from us about diversity, mission and where higher education is headed in the future,” said Newark Chancellor Steven J. Diner. “So we have something to teach higher education as well.”
ACE represents presidents and chancellors of all types of U.S. degree-granting institutions, more than 1,600 in all. Sharon A. McDade, director of the program, said its yearlong fellowship program is designed to strengthen institutions and leadership by identifying and preparing faculty and staff members for senior positions in college and university administration. Traditionally, Fellows seminars have used case studies of hypothetical colleges and universities for their research. But this year organizers took another tack: For the first time, they decided to focus on a brick-and-mortar institution, with the hands-on participation of that institution’s leaders.
The idea was for the Fellows to research the chosen facility and develop proposals based on the seminar’s themes of leadership, diversity, and change in higher education as they apply to several nontraditional student populations, McDade said. Both ACE and Rutgers thought the campus in Newark – long acknowledged as the most diverse in the country – would be a perfect fit.
Earlier this month teams of Fellows convened in California, ready to focus on students in five different categories: adult learners; returning veterans; immigrants; students with religious orientations other than Judeo-Christian; and students with disabilities, be they physical, emotional, or learning.
Working with background information Rutgers supplied, the participants brainstormed with the participation of Diner – himself an ACE Fellow a quarter of a century ago – and Sherri-Ann Butterfield, Rutgers associate professor of sociology and a faculty fellow this year in the chancellor’s office.
The two Rutgers academics interacted with their colleagues at the seminar, offering insights into their campus. At the conclusion of the sessions, each team made a presentation, offering broad suggestions for attracting, nurturing, and retaining the population it had studied. The recommendations included heightening the focus on serving students with disabilities and implementing more outreach to veterans.
“The Fellows offered us the perspectives of outsiders, seeing us with fresh eyes,” Diner said. The chancellor said he was impressed with the Fellows’ grasp of the campus’s historical mission of serving lower-income and first-generation college students, and with their ability to link those factors to today’s student populations. For example, Diner said, the Fellows’ research showed that many returning service members from World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars had made Rutgers–Newark their campus of choice, attracted by schedules designed to accommodate work and family demands.
Today’s veterans also would find the campus appealing for the same reasons, the academics noted, urging increased efforts to attract 21st-century veterans.
The ACE-Rutgers partnership continues as the national organization assesses the pilot program and evaluates feedback/ The findings will allow ACE to fine-tune the case-study process for next year, when Rutgers is again expected to participate.