Bringing It

Bringing It #107: Emerging Models Offer Hope Amidst National Setbacks

July 06, 2023

Dear friends,

Last week was an occasion for progress and creative energy in our work at BT2P; we hosted an important convening of the Paradigm Project here at Elon, which we’ll tell you about below. Yet for U.S. higher education, it was a week of terrible harm. In back-to-back decisions, the Supreme Court largely eliminated the ability to take account of race in college admissions and then invalidated the Biden Administration’s emergency plan to forgive student loan debt for low and middle-income borrowers. These decisions will diminish students’ chances of success—in both entering and leaving higher education. They also set back the goal of building a more equitable, inclusive, and welcoming academy.

Many campus leaders and national associations—among them, the American Association of College and Universities, the American Council on Education, and the American Council of Learned Societies—have weighed in eloquently against the affirmative action decision and resolved to continue the unfinished work of racial equity. We’d like to add one further thought, as we consider both cases together.

BT2P’s work is grounded in the belief that higher education is a public good. The collective benefits it offers—personal opportunity, useful research, spaces of creativity and innovation—depend on a grand compact with the larger society. Racial and class equity are at the heart of this social compact. In committing our campuses to become more inclusive and integrated, we also contribute to building a society that is fairer, more inclusive, more communal, and more just. The Supreme Court damaged that social compact this week. In the wake of its actions, we face the prospect of deeper racial, class, and sectoral segregation in the academy, and millions of aspiring students will find themselves shut out of opportunity.

But the struggle is far from over. The Supreme Court is powerful, but not all-powerful. Already across higher education, leaders and policy makers are exploring alternative practices for overcoming the barriers of debt, economic precarity, and systemic racism in college access and success. And the broader work of creating an academy that offers equitable, holistic, transformative education to all students—the work of renewing a damaged social compact—goes on. BT2P will be part of it.

The Emerging Models Gathering 

As we noted above, the Paradigm Project reached a significant milestone last week. We hosted the first gathering of the “emerging model partnerships” that together make up a crucial element of the project’s theory of change. The partnerships comprise a diverse array of institutions and consortia: urban and rural institutions, PWIs and MSIs, liberal-arts colleges and state universities, a community college and an adult-serving college. All are accomplished in educational innovation, and all are committed to pursuing the larger implications of their innovations for institutional change. In other words, they are committed to confronting the systemic barriers to change. Each partnership has its own, distinctive goals:

  • The Bonner Network will advance efforts to include civic engagement across the student experience at the schools participating in the Pathways Project: Averett University, The College of St. Benedict & St. John’s University, Montclair State University, Oberlin College, Maryville University, Siena College, and Widener University.
  • College Unbound, an alternative adult serving institution, will begin to implement its 2022-2027 Strategic Plan. This will create ways to measure institutional quality that reflects their commitment to equity, justice, transformation, and student voice.
  • Georgetown University will focus on how to build on-going innovation and transformative change into institutional structures and cultures. It will utilize Georgetown’s Red House, Georgetown’s hub of curricular innovation, as one foundation for this work.
  • James Madison University will more fully center transdisciplinary and project-based innovation, such as JMU’s X-Labs, into their curriculum and equip students with “changemaker” mindsets as hallmarks of their education.
  • The Philadelphia Higher Education Network for Neighborhood Development (PHENND), a network of over 25 higher education institutions, will create new models of holistic student success for historically underserved students from the Philadelphia region. This initiative will integrate curriculum, advising, material support, and address campus climate. Temple University and Community College of Philadelphia are the initial participating campuses.

The partnerships, in short, are tackling diverse but complementary elements of a holistic, inclusive vision of undergraduate learning. We’ve asked them to extend their important local work beyond its local context, to connect as hubs in a larger movement. By working and learning together as a community of practice—and in connection with new partnerships—we hope that they will point the way forward towards new models of systemic change.

The gathering proved even more exciting than we could have expected. Team leaders from all eleven institutions and two consortia were enthusiastic about the possibilities of collaboration and cross-pollination, finding unexpected resonances in very different institutional settings. They leaned into our suggestion that they might serve as thought-partners and hubs for the Paradigm Project’s goal of building a movement for holistic change—even as they posed hard questions about what it means to sustain such a cross-sectoral movement. They encouraged BT2P to create frequent opportunities for digital and face-to-face meetings and to come back to the group with concrete ‘asks’ and opportunities for shared action.

The Paradigm Project is based on the belief that systemic change in higher education, change that goes beyond the cutting-edge program or the exciting campus, requires such movement-building and boundary-crossing imagination. The first gathering of the emerging model partnerships offered a small confirmation that a community of change-makers can generate new energy, new ideas, and new plans of action—as well as laughter and solace. In future issues of Bringing It, we will bring you updates on the work of the partnerships. At a time of legal setbacks and political attacks, this was a tonic step forward.

With thanks for all that you do,
David, Paul, Todd, Kate, and Gillian