Peer Review

From the Editor

This issue of Peer Review weaves together many stories of collaboration from authors participating in AAC&U’s LEAP States initiative—including perspectives from California, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin. These stories form a rich tapestry about large-scale and generative change in higher education. The LEAP States initiative, one of the strands of work within AAC&U’s Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative, is a framework for collaboration, transformational change, and educational alignment to raise college learning and attainment within states and state systems.

Through the LEAP States initiative, AAC&U offers practical assistance and materials and provides a national voice for colleges and universities in systems, consortia, states, and regions. This initiative concentrates attention on the evolving demographics of the United States and the mobility of today’s college students. Recognizing that in the twenty-first century, students move toward degrees from school to college along many pathways, LEAP emphasizes learning outcomes that are important for all graduates, regardless of where they start and end their studies and how many schools they attend. Helping states reach their objectives for degree attainment, workforce preparation, and engaged citizenship through access to high-quality liberal education for all students is the ultimate goal of LEAP and of the LEAP States initiative.

Institutions in LEAP states and beyond have adapted their own versions of the LEAP essential learning outcomes and invested significantly in high-impact practices that help students achieve the outcomes. See right for a set of lessons learned by those involved in LEAP States’ institutions that can help other colleges, universities, and systems who want to greatly improve completion and the quality of student learning.

While these lessons learned from the LEAP States initiative are framed at the state-system level, much of the wisdom shared by this issue’s authors will resonate with and can be useful to those in a wide range of institutions. Through similar collaborative efforts, educators and administrators—whether at small private or large public institutions—can create communication channels that allow for meaningful exchanges of ideas toward large- or small-scale educational reform. For as author and activist Helen Keller once noted, “Alone we can do so little; Together we can do so much.”


The LEAP States Initiative and Give Students a Compass: A Tri-State LEAP Partnership for College Learning, General Education, and Underserved Student Success have been made possible in part by grants from State Farm Insurance Companies, Carnegie Corporation of New York, and Lumina Foundation for Education.

Lessons Learned through LEAP States Initiative

  1. Use LEAP frameworks (e.g., ELOs, HIPS) as launching pads for intra- and inter-institutional discussions about shared goals and make the discussions ongoing (with both face-to-face and electronic communication networks) and as inclusive as possible (e.g., including faculty, student affairs, students, academic administrators, and outside constituents—trustees, regents, business leaders, civic leaders).
  2. Create platforms to put curricular reforms and multiple student success initiatives in dialogue with one another—making their connections transparent to students and outsiders.
  3. Work on change both from the top down and the bottom up—through an iterative, dialogic process.
  4. Respect institutional cultures even while forging common ground on large aims and outcomes, and on principles to define metrics for success.
  5. Work to balance: (a) shared outcomes with design articulation; (b) coherence with student and faculty need to explore curricular choices; (c) focused leadership with broad input from constituencies; (d) HIPS development with a mindful approach to fiscal restraints.
  6. Use statewide accountability mandates to take the lead on crafting meaningful assessment plans and collaboration across institutions.
  7. Find success in using student learning outcomes and assessment to drive curricular change by connecting with disciplinary faculty cultures.
  8. Respect faculty and staff as key to cultural and lasting changes.
  9. Keep focus on students—not just on institutional types and inter- and intra-institutional turf issues.
  10. Shift publicity and news information from reactive to proactive—from reacting to external accountability mandates to proactively organizing institutional attention to students and faculty and to support for teaching, learning, and meaningful assessment.

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