Massachusetts Brings It All Together

As a LEAP State, Massachusetts undertook a major initiative of system-wide transformational change to strengthen undergraduate education by joining the Faculty Collaboratives. The immediate goal was to build faculty knowledge, skill, desire, and leadership to apply LEAP, Degree Qualifications Profile, and Tuning principles for the redesign of general education programs and the assessment of student learning outcomes or proficiencies, both within individual institutions and in the context of student transfer. The longer-term goal was to build ongoing faculty leadership and capacity within and across the state and to adopt and use teaching and learning practices that foster increased student success.

First Steps

The Massachusetts Transfer Pathways (MTP) is a major initiative that was created to better facilitate students’ ability to transfer from two-year to four-year institutions. This process is replacing the former system of hundreds of articulation agreements among the twenty-eight campuses within the system. Those agreements too often have served as a barrier to student access, achievement, and completion. The MTP initiative is linked to adopting Massachusetts Commissioner of Higher Education Carlos Santiago’s goals of improving college access and affordability; closing achievement gaps with special focus on increasing opportunities for low-income males and males of color; and raising college completion rates by overhauling developmental education, expanding student support/advising, and creating system-wide transfer pathways.

Phase 1 of the MTP began with meetings of faculty representatives by disciplines, who met with their counterparts across the state to determine the courses a student must complete in the first two years in order to transfer to a four-year institution. These foundational courses were selected by faculty from the three segments of Massachusetts higher education: community colleges, state universities, and the University of Massachusetts system. Two-day meetings of faculty in biology, chemistry, economics, history, political science, psychology, and sociology started the process. The remaining disciplines of business administration, communication and media studies, computer science, criminal justice, early childhood education, English, and physics are now underway.

Faculty segment leaders and discipline-specific faculty for the first seven disciplines have worked collaboratively to develop learning outcomes for their foundational courses by utilizing Tuning. This process is building faculty leadership and engagement by working with other state-wide faculty representatives to provide review and feedback of the final discipline-specific and course learning outcomes. Results will be disseminated by the Department of Higher Education’s (DHE) chief academic officer to the institutional academic officers and then shared with their respective departments and faculties. It is the desire of DHE that the learning outcomes will be universally used by discipline-specific faculty, as the outcomes have been developed by discipline-specific faculty working with other discipline-specific faculty who teach the same courses, and the outcomes will significantly improve students’ ability to transfer, persist, and complete.

A Project in the Making

The Massachusetts innovation hub is a project in the making. Meetings were held in January 2017 with the DHE web designer to begin a learning assessment web page that will be housed within the strategic initiatives of the DHE website. This website will be a resource for institutions statewide, a showcase of their successes, and an informational resource that they can draw on, including materials from Massachusetts, from national resources, and from other LEAP states. The project leaders hope that these resources will spur campus-level innovation and transformational change.

Robert J. Awkward, Director of Learning Outcomes Assessment, Massachusetts Department of Higher Education; Bonnie Orcutt, Professor of Economics, Worcester State University; Catherine L. Pride, Professor of Psychology, Middlesex Community College; and Lori Dawson, Professor of Psychology, Worcester State University

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