Faculty Collaboration for the Future

At the launch of the Faculty Collaboratives project in 2014, the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) invited faculty from LEAP States to experiment with a state-based infrastructure for Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP). In many ways, this was akin to building the boat while they were sailing it. We designed the project to reach LEAP outcomes for student success by embracing and nurturing faculty leadership at the state level. We wanted to give faculty sustainable options and opportunities—the means and modes—to direct their own professional learning. Project leaders intended reciprocal effort to help states and systems find direction and energy through faculty participation. At the project’s opening, ten states and state-based consortia had formally joined the LEAP States initiative. Funded by Lumina Foundation, the three-year grant aimed to make LEAP, Lumina’s Degree Qualifications Profile (DQP), and related activities in these ten states sustainable so that momentum would continue beyond the grant funding.


To provide a liberal education for all college students in the United States—giving priority to traditionally underserved students—calls for wide and deep, as well as equitable and compassionate, engagement among educators. This effort is an investment in the future of democracy. It requires networking robust enough to meet faculty where they are, welcoming educators for whom working conditions are contingent as well as those who are secure. Designing the Faculty Collaboratives, we decided to take a leaf from LEAP. Liberal education liberates minds for a life of learning just as valuably for educators as it does for students. We hoped integrative state-based structures could sustain inclusive liberal learning.

By summer 2017, all ten states that participated in Faculty Collaboratives have sustained the effort. Each state has designed and made, to one degree or another, an infrastructure to keep them going. The generosity and good will of participating faculty and system administrators—a group embracing the many educators of many titles involved in the project—yielded insights and principles, advice for policy and advocacy, and practices for professional leadership and learning that can guide educators for years to come.

Theory of Action

From the start, our project goal was to scale up the LEAP initiative. In the first decade of LEAP, hundreds of individual institutions adopted the framework. LEAP States builds on the momentum in individual institutions by creating networks in state systems or consortia. Interinstitutional collaboration can also respond to the unique conditions—culture and society, policies, politics, and processes—of higher education in states.

The LEAP States project began during a period of expansion among national initiatives for learning-centered reform (Kezar 2016). Several AAC&U initiatives, including LEAP, Quality Collaboratives, Developing a Community College Student Roadmap, VALUE (Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education), General Education Maps and Markers (GEMs), high-impact practices (HIPs), and Signature Work (http://www.aacu.org/aacu-programs) have grown concurrently with Lumina Foundation’s Degree Qualifications Profile (DQP) and Tuning USA project, the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment’s Assignment Library (https://www.assignmentlibrary.org), and national efforts such as the Center for Urban Education’s Equity Scorecard (https://cue.usc.edu/tools/the-equity-scorecard/), the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education’s Interstate Passport (http://www.wiche.edu/passport/home), and the American Association of Community Colleges’s Pathways (http://www.aacc.nche.edu/Resources/aaccprograms/pathways/pages/default.aspx).

This proliferation of reform projects in higher education has introduced challenges of its own. How are faculty to make sense of proliferating initiatives that center on or converge with LEAP and the DQP? How it is possible to keep generative activity going after a grant ends and funding disappears? How is it possible to maintain momentum when administrations change and educators face new policies and regulations?

We organized Faculty Collaboratives to be a venue for integrative learning and ingenuity, sustaining a family of projects over time under the fluid conditions of higher education. In partnership with state system administrations or higher education boards or councils, we wanted to encourage educators to collaborate with administrators to align strategic planning with LEAP, to build a durable infrastructure that will help simultaneously to meet state goals for student success and connect higher education in the state with national frameworks and initiatives. We reasoned that outreach to growing numbers of faculty for professional learning and leadership could be intentionally fostered to support an array of activities in the future. From the perspective of AAC&U, outreach to educators can multiply through state networks and the structures that support them.

Project Architecture

The Faculty Collaboratives placed LEAP and the DQP at the center of our efforts. Each participating state partnership identified a set of faculty fellows to join administrators in leading the project (see figure 1). The state teams then made their own plans to introduce nationally significant initiatives to colleagues. We laid out an array of initiatives and invited the teams to choose their own direction. Initially, we named LEAP, DQP and Tuning USA, VALUE/Multi-State Collaboratives, GEMs, HIPs, and Signature Work. Teams could customize their choice of “big” initiatives and add local work as they saw fit. We welcomed engagement in convergent initiatives and statewide strategic plans. The stories from each of the partnerships emerge in the reports gathered in this issue of Peer Review.

Figure 1. Participating Systems, Councils, Consortia

  • California State University and California Community Colleges
  • Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education
  • LEAP IN (LEAP Indiana); Indiana Commission for Higher Education
  • Massachusetts Department of Education
  • LEAP Texas (coalition of systems and institutions in Texas)
  • North Dakota University System
  • Utah System of Higher Education
  • Higher Education Coordinating Commission (Oregon)
  • University of Wisconsin System
  • State Council of Higher Education for Virginia

The project leadership asked teams to design and create a large-scale, sustainable network of resource and digital communication hubs and a curriculum for faculty professional leadership and learning. We asked for organizational work with educators and infrastructure work using both virtual and grounded centers for activity. Each team made sense of the project individually and swapped ideas across the states through project venues. Beginning early in the project, teams debated the use of information and communications technology—including internet websites and social media practices—and made decisions about the features and functions of the hub.

The state stories in this issue present an array of different designs emerging from what was often a spirited debate over organizational strategies and about technology and social learning. What, for instance, would be an effective balance of face-to-face meetings or conferences and social media events? Teams also debated the curriculum—the material from national and local initiatives shared on the hub, which became a “how-to” curriculum on ways of applying DQP and LEAP to practical educational problems. In general, we expected the hubs to help faculty leaders document and share what works for them locally—incorporating scholarship of teaching and learning, for example—and to engage their own communities. We also asked teams to create and use an educational framework that helps faculty make sense of the fast-multiplying family of proficiency initiatives. In the meantime, the AAC&U staff and consultants organized national networking. We intended to spread and share resources while raising national awareness. Project staff and consultants used Twitter (#faccollab and #leapstates) and a listserv for communication in addition to organizing project meetings and attending state conferences that each state hosted. I created an electronic portfolio that served as a hub site for both Faculty Collaboratives and associated LEAP States activities. The Faculty Collaboratives Digication eportfolio comprises news and information about project activities and connects to the state hubs (https://tinyurl.com/ycg4lo7b). AAC&U also created a resource hub for LEAP networks (http://www.aacu.org/resources/leap-networks).

Phase 1, beginning in 2014, engaged teams from five states: California, Indiana, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin. Another five LEAP States—Kentucky, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Oregon, and Virginia—joined for Phase 2 in 2016 (see figure 1). The first five LEAP States that joined the project in Phase 1 received most of the project funding. In return, they set ambitious two-year goals and served as models for the second group of states. We asked Phase 2 states to study the work of the first group and to plan their own efforts, which we hoped—successfully, as it turned out—that they would move forward on their own.

Project Outcomes

Three years later, we have reached the breathless moment when the project sails on its own. In this issue of Peer Review, we have invited team leaders to share the most important lessons they have learned. To synthesize the learning, our team of staff and consultants at AAC&U report here on discoveries made as work unfolded across the states. Rebecca Dolinsky Graham reports on landscape scanning and participant interviews conducted in the first two years. Elizabeth Holcombe reports on her study of social media and social learning throughout the project. Anne Kelsch recommends structural support for professional learning. Both the state teams and the AAC&U project team practiced self-assessment throughout, hoping to shape our learning through feedback. A project rubric guided this effort (figure 2).

Figure 2. Project Assessment Rubric

The Faculty Collaboratives rubric is based on the Integrative Learning VALUE rubric and can be downloaded at www.aacu.org/node/17663.
Performance Outcomes
  • Equity in practice
  • Integration
  • Transfer and sustainability
  • Communication and social learning
  • Refection and self-assessment

From the state “experiments,” we have lifted a selection of crosscutting insights. Each team made complex and sometimes contradictory discoveries, which we have asked teams to highlight in their articles. Experimentation is hard and not uniformly successful, and it was fascinating to share divergent learning across the project and to see the adoption and changing of ideas from state to state. To sustain state-level leadership in which faculty truly have a say and a stake, we highlight the following practices.

Connect to Other Networks
Utah identified specific ways to reach convergent networks by connecting with faculty where they are. The team realized that they needed to move beyond their traditional general education statewide leadership. They reorganized a standing committee at the state level, introducing representation from centers for teaching and learning. They met with directors of teaching technology and continuing education. Their ideas for interpersonal communication and intergroup networking helped the Indiana team reshape their work and inspired Kentucky and Massachusetts as well.

Create New Communities
Virginia created a massive open online course (MOOC) as a collectivist endeavor (openlearninghub.net). Open to any educator, the MOOC brought together communities of open learning, liberal education, and general education advocates. The online hub offers a syndicated blog. It attracted nearly fifty bloggers, whose free-ranging explorations have potential to launch innovation in and beyond Virginia.

Cross Boundaries for Equity
California and Indiana made significant advances by partnering across higher education sectors. The California State University LEAP leadership and the California Community College Student Success Network have committed to an equitable partnership that was years in the building. The title of their 2016 convening sums it up: “Crossing Boundaries for Equity-Minded Teaching and Learning.” LEAP Indiana has found a home for faculty collaboration hosted by Indiana University, leading a statewide effort with Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana and other public and private institutions toward improved student transfer.

Provide Stable Resources
As an independent membership organization, LEAP Texas has sufficient resources to offer continued support for faculty and assessment fellows. United to advance authentic assessment of student learning on statewide Texas core objectives, LEAP Texas provides structure and practices that other state teams can study. The independent model provoked much thought across the project. Public systems would do well to recognize the need for stable resources, funding, staffing, events, and structures to support faculty engagement.

Revitalize Campus Leadership of Statewide Networks
Several states, especially those involved in LEAP States for a decade, found an opportunity through the project to renew statewide leadership. Some accomplished this work by creating new networks among faculty, campus, and system administrators, as Wisconsin is doing. As Wisconsin leaders learned, “you must be willing to adapt, to change, and to roll with the punches.” Oregon has reorganized faculty development efforts through their new statewide council, renewing the work of an earlier learning outcomes and assessment task force with representation from both universities and community colleges. North Dakota has created new communities of practice for faculty through their long-standing statewide general education council.

Engage in Strategic Planning
All ten projects anchored their work in or connected it to a state council or system office, with an identified staff liaison responsible for integrating the faculty professional learning into strategic plans. Particularly cogent examples of strategic planning designed to converge with LEAP and faculty professional learning appeared in Kentucky, Massachusetts, Texas, and Wisconsin—each designed differently.

Standing on Common Ground

In the coming years, we anticipate seeing results of this work. Each state has made a foundation that is strong enough to build on and durable enough to support activities no one has imagined yet. Both faculty leaders and state system administrators have come together to reach mutually respected goals for student success. They’ve done this work with extraordinary creativity and truly modest resources. We have launched Faculty Collaboratives to bring educators together on common ground, a place for generosity and hope. 



Kezar, Adrianna. 2016. “Consortial Leadership: Toward Large-Scale Change.” Change 48 (6): 50−57.

Susan Albertine, Senior Scholar, Office of Integrative Liberal Learning and the Global Commons, AAC&U


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