Stretching UDL Beyond the Classroom: Affordability, Quality, and Belonging in Higher Education

Stretching UDL Beyond the Classroom: Affordability, Quality, and Belonging in Higher Education

Sam Catherine Johnston (CAST Inc., USA) and Allison Posey (CAST Inc., USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-7106-4.ch023
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Abstract

Universal design for learning (UDL) must continue to address questions of classroom quality but also push beyond the classroom to look at other parts of the system that when designed for one size fits all or even one size fits some prevent talented students from entering and persisting in higher education. This chapter examines affordability, quality, and belonging to illustrate how much student variability there is in each of these issues and highlight a range of responses that could become part of a more flexible and universally designed higher education.
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Introduction

During the COVID-19 pandemic, higher education (HE) institutions in the United States (U.S.) wrestled with the idea that students may not come to campus or attend classes in the same way. Although enrollment in HE has increased over the past two decades (National Center for Education Statistics, 2020), the number of high school students enrolling directly in college in Fall 2020 declined by 21% from the previous year, creating deficits for colleges that rely on tuition as a substantial component of their operating budget. In the Fall of 2020, direct college enrollment rates after high school were particularly low for students graduating from high poverty, low income, and urban high schools (National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 2020). Other inequities in HE were laid bare as institutions moved to remote learning – from who had devices and Internet connectivity, to who could access the materials and technologies used for teaching and learning. The larger societal picture, and in particular the impacts of systemic racism, revealed much about who had access to HE and, more importantly, to degree completion, to advanced degrees, and ultimately to leadership roles in the workforce. Without more racial, ethnic, ability, gender, and income diversity amongst decision makers in healthcare, housing, education, and the economy, these systems will continue to privilege white, affluent, patriarchal, and ableist perspectives. Inequitable distribution of power results in inequitable distribution of resources and opportunities.

In this book, educators have shared insights and practices that put students at the center - insights born from examining the experience of individual students in classrooms or of specific populations under-represented in HE. A faculty member, Elizabeth Morch, teaching in a professional program within a community college in Western Canada described several creative strategies to change assessment practices because they were not identifying and validating students that had the knowledge and skills they would need in the workplace. Through multi-institution partnerships, another educator, Lisa Hall, described the Preparation for Tertiary Success (PTS) program in Australia, focused on increasing access to HE for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. The authors described the model: “PTS embeds academic skills into a curriculum using a pedagogy that is focused on holistic and learner centered learning, a high expectations learning environment, meaningful and culturally relevant content, and strong culturally safe learning relationships.”

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) (Meyer & Rose, 1998; Rose & Meyer, 2002) is built on the fact that our students are not all the same. At a bare minimum, students differ from one another in how they perceive information, how they build skills and demonstrate understanding, and how they are motivated to learn. UDL provides a framework to design for these differences from the outset (Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014; Rose, Meyer, & Hitchcock, 2005; Rose, Meyer, Strangman, Rappolt, & Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2002). UDL is applied to classrooms so they can provide a high-quality education for all students. Yet, UDL has started to be applied to other areas of HE that help determine student success such as student services (Beck, Diaz del Castillo, Fovet, Mole & Noga, 2014). The question remains as to whether UDL will be widely adopted and contribute to greater inclusion of a diverse body of students in HE and subsequently to a more diverse workforce.

In this final chapter, the authors argue that in the future, UDL must continue to address questions of classroom quality and also push beyond the classroom to look at other parts of the HE system that, when designed for one size fits all or even one size fits some, prevent talented students from entering and persisting in HE. UDL can be part of an approach to address three critical questions every HE institution should ask itself:

  • Are we providing an affordable higher education to all of our students?

  • Are we providing a quality higher education to all of our students?

  • Do all of our students feel as if they belong at our institution?

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