Supporting the Individual and the Institution
AAHE's vision of education for all Americans and mission for change.
By Margaret A. Miller, AAHE President
From the February 1998 AAHE Bulletin
The American Association for Higher Education envisions a higher
education enterprise that helps all Americans achieve the deep, lifelong learning they
need to grow as individuals, participate in the democratic process, and succeed in a
AAHE is the individual membership organization that promotes the
changes higher education must make to ensure its effectiveness in a complex,
interconnected world. The association equips individuals and institutions committed to
such changes with the knowledge they need to bring them about.
To pursue these aims, AAHE
- Envisions and articulates agendas for change.
- Contributes to the knowledge of a diverse group of leaders committed
to the systemic, long-term, cost-effective improvement of American higher education.
- Provides forums in which individuals from a variety of positions and
institutions, within and outside higher education, can engage in constructive
conversations about difficult issues.
- Identifies and advocates practices that help individuals benefit from
their differences and succeed in learning.
- Documents and promotes new concepts of scholarship, with particular
emphasis on the nature of learning and the results of teaching.
- Helps institutions develop their capacities to make the
organizational, pedagogical, and other changes needed to achieve their evolving missions.
- Collaborates with individuals and organizations engaged in similar
This fall, the AAHE staff, Board, and voluntary leadership worked to
clarify the association's purpose and focus. Despite a certain skepticism about the value
of a vision and mission statement (Mel West once quipped that a mission statement
describes the establishment you want others to believe you work in, representing values
you may never get around to), I have found the one that resulted for AAHE to be remarkably
helpful in steering the association during these first few months. The statement is meant
to be a dynamic, living document that is enriched by ongoing discussion and takes its
meaning from the way it is embodied in AAHE's programs and services.
The vision/mission statement condenses a discussion that was much
fuller than its summary can suggest. To share the conversational context and to give you
my interpretation, I offer the following exegesis.
|The vision statement
is the result of an attempt by the association's leadership to clarify why we care so
deeply about AAHE's work. Why do we want to help faculty, staff, and colleges and
universities do their work better? Because we care about students. Who are those students?
In our vision, all Americans should have access to learning throughout their lives -- not
just those who are privileged.
We asked ourselves further, Why is that learning, and widespread access to it, important?
First, because we ascribe to the classic liberal notion that individual human happiness
and collective human good reside in the full development of the powers of each person.
Those powers help people realize the fullest satisfaction from personal and family life
(to my mind the primary goal of higher education), but they are also critical to the
exercise of the duties of citizenship, on which our collective well-being depends.
Moreover, in the new global economy, in which knowledge and intellectual abilities are our
most important capital, individual and collective success depends on the continuing
cultivation of mental powers and the accumulation of knowledge.
promotes civic responsibility through its service-learning project, service-learning
coalition, eighteen-volume series on service-learning, and Making the Case for
individual membership organization . . ."
Americans, as Tocqueville pointed out, are remarkable for their propensity to form
voluntary associations. AAHE is classically American in its emphasis on individual rather
than institutional members. Our ultimate goal is the improvement of American higher
education, especially in its core functions of teaching and learning; we move toward that
goal by helping individuals and groups at all levels of the academy see what the future
environment for higher education is likely to be and what they can do today to adapt to
and shape it.
change . . ."
My predecessor, Russ Edgerton, described AAHE in a wonderful metaphor as "the Paul
Revere of higher education," a lone horseman warning of imminent danger. I see AAHE
as analogous to the Lewis and Clark party, exploring the new terrain into which higher
education will expand. The guide, Sacajawea, seems to me the quintessential member of the
expedition: a polyglot of indomitable cheer, stamina, and curiosity, whose kinship network
and capacity to find nourishment in unlikely places enabled the explorers to travel in
strange territory. I see AAHE as an expeditionary force whose task is traversing and
charting new regions.
|AAHE's caucuses and interest groups include
- American Indian/Alaska Native Caucus
- Asian/Pacific Caucus
- Black Caucus
- Hispanic Caucus
- Student Caucus
- Women's Caucus
- Community College Network
- National Network of Faculty Senates
- Provosts Forum
- Research Forum
- Collaboration in Undergraduate Education (CUE) Network
diverse group of leaders ..."
AAHE is not a lobbying or advocacy organization. Instead, it brings together a varied
group of leaders from all levels within colleges and universities to discuss issues of
common concern. It could take as its motto John Stuart Mill's statement that "the
only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject,
is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and
studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind." The
association prizes its caucuses and interest groups and sponsors their active
participation in its intellectual and cultural dialogues. Their angles of vision lend
depth to our collective perceptions.
AAHE is a collection of
individuals, but their goal is systemic change. AAHE operates on the assumption that
substantive changes in policies and modes of operation proceed person by person, group by
group, campus by campus and hence occur only through patient, long-term effort. So it
chooses its projects carefully, focusing on issues that are robust enough to work on for a
decade or longer. The projects are linked by a common goal: to help institutions meet the
needs of their constituents as well and cost-effectively as possible. Although AAHE
emphasizes the improvement of American higher education, we will take lessons in how to do
so from anywhere on the globe.
conversations about difficult issues . . ."
AAHE is unusual in that it does not represent a particular sector or position within
higher education -- it is one of the few associations that brings together individuals
from a variety of roles. It provides escape from positional narcissism. Faculty from
various disciplines talk with administrators at all levels, and both talk with those
outside the traditional academy, to forge a sense of their common interest in promoting
learning. Through its conferences, institutes, work on campuses, and publications, the
association provides the neutral space in which differences can be aired and negotiated.
benefit from their differences . . ."
AAHE's own structures and practices are predicated on a belief
in the advantages of dialogue among people from different backgrounds and with different
roles and perspectives. Students, too, learn by having their perceptions challenged,
confirmed, made more complex, and changed by those who see things differently. But
heterogeneity among students makes the faculty's job more challenging. AAHE helps
educators by identifying pedagogical strategies that support learning for a wide range of
and promotes new concepts of scholarship ..."
At AAHE, we explore how to treat teaching and learning as central activities that, like
other forms of scholarly work, can be shared, documented, studied, reviewed, rewarded, and
continuously improved. The association also explores how to assess the learning that is
the ultimate measure of effective teaching. It encourages the evolution of faculty roles
and rewards and the use of new technologies and other pedagogical strategies such as
service-learning to deepen and extend student understanding.
pedagogical strategies will be examined at AAHE's 1998 National Conference on Higher
Education, including service-learning, cooperative learning, experiential learning,
learning communities, and technology-based learning.
institutions develop their capacities ..."
For change to be systemic, AAHE must contribute to the professional development of its
members, but it must also help key individuals on campus leverage continuous
institution-wide improvement. The association works with groups of these key individuals,
who can use their collective influence to clarify and focus institutional mission and to
chart the way for its successful realization.
with individuals and organizations ..."
AAHE, too, must have a clear and focused mission. But important work lies outside that
focus. So AAHE has formed partnerships with other organizations -- campuses, associations,
and international groups -- to extend its efforts without lessening the impetus or
coherence of its own activities.
|Some organizations with which AAHE is working on joint projects:
- TLT Group: the Teaching, Learning, and Technology Affiliate of AAHE
- Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching
- Associated New American Colleges (ANAC)
- National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) and
American College Personnel Association (ACPA)
- New England Resource Center for Higher Education (NERCHE)
- Campus Compact
- National Society for Experiential Education (NSEE)
A few institutions with which AAHE is collaborating intensively:
- California State University System
- University of Wisconsin System
- Maricopa Community Colleges
- Harvard University
- Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis
- Portland State University
This is the vision and mission of the American Association for
Higher Education as we see it today. We welcome comments, which may be sent to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or through this website. I hope to hear from you!