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ASU president calls on universities to put students first

Michael M. Crow and Fmr. Gov Mitch Daniels discuss education in Washington
January 15, 2015

Arizona State University President Michael M. Crow called on colleges and universities that were chartered to serve the public good to adapt their approach to education by reinventing themselves as student-first institutions.

“I think that it’s all about the acceptance of innovation and moving, particularly at public universities, to student-centric institutions versus faculty-centric institutions,” Crow said in a panel discussion about higher education at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

Crow argued that academics at some public colleges and universities had gone too far in trying to mold themselves in the model of the top tier private schools.

“Are they willing to sort of get off their high horses, which are very high, and step down a little bit and say, 'We’ve got to innovate. We’ve got to change. We’ve got to adapt,'” Crow said.

Crow has consistently spoken about the importance of changing the model at many colleges and universities to one that values how many students a school accepts – of all socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds – and how those succeed.

That notion was officially adopted for ASU in the university’s first-ever charter last year.

His remarks Jan. 15 at the Newseum were part of an educational summit co-hosted by ASU and Opportunity America, a Washington think tank promoting tools to improve economic mobility.

Crow was joined in the discussion by Purdue University president and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who praised Crow for being on the forefront of university innovation.

“Michael’s our thought leader on this,” Daniels said. “And I agree with and have learned a lot from the prescriptions that he – and like-minded people – have been suggesting.”

ASU and Purdue are both members of the University Innovation Alliance, a group of eleven public institutions dedicated to collaborating on ideas that improve student retention and graduation rates.

The conversation allowed both Crow and Daniels to share successes they have had at their respective universities.

Daniels promised that Purdue would accept 90 percent of Indiana applicants in the coming year, and that the school would continue to grow to provide more access to educational opportunities.

Crow spoke about advances in the understanding of how different students learn. He told the story of an introductory physics class at ASU that is a prerequisite for many science and engineering majors.

In past years, many students struggled with the course, Crow said, but ASU found ways to use technology to adapt the teaching to different styles of learning and dramatically increase the rate of students who excelled in the class.

“What we found is that we were a part of the problem,” Crow said. “So this notion that somehow the kid is unprepared ... they may be differently prepared, they may be less prepared, but they’re not unprepared.”

Crow said that examining the actual method of teaching and creating more individualized approaches allowed for enhanced student success.

“We think that we found some tools that didn’t exist five years ago that have altered that,” Crow said.

Daniels seemed to look forward to hearing about those tools.

“This is what the alliance is about,” Daniels said. “We’re going to plagiarize every good idea [Crow’s] got, and we hope to invent a couple.”

“And we’re going to plagiarize yours,” interjected Crow.