Mapping Opportunities Project: Background

Shaped by their historical identity as “people’s colleges,” the four-year public institution exists at the intersection of the current controversy about whether or not higher education is a public right or a private good.  Because its longstanding mission centers on access to college for low- and middle-income citizens, no other four-year institution of higher education is as inextricably linked to the shifting demographics of American society.  Four-year public colleges face the challenge of supporting  access, persistence, retention, and success of increasing numbers of underserved –students—students who do not receive equitable resources as others in the academic pipeline.  Typically, these groups of students include low-income, underrepresented racial/ethnic minorities, and first generation students.

At the same time, many successful research-based retention programs for underserved students exist at the margins of the sponsoring institution and do not significantly change the overall college culture, structure, and systems.  In order for institutions to better retain their ever-increasing numbers of underserved students, it will be necessary to elevate the retention of underserved students as a critical institutional, systemic priority.  Creating academic success for these students requires a commitment to pervasive, deep institutional change focusing on issues of equity and excellence outlined in the recent consideration of the concept of “inclusive excellence,” (Milem et al, 2005; Bauman et al, 2005; Williams et al, 2005). Creating effective institutional change to better support underserved students’ academic and social assets requires acknowledging the value of practitioner knowledge from across the differing areas of a campus. Because public four-year colleges are typically under-resourced, scaling up of retention initiatives requires a considerable level of ingenuity and creativity in establishing innovation, assessing its effectiveness, and providing ongoing supports for faculty and staff development which will sustain change over time.

Thus, the meeting activities will focus on mapping opportunities for cultural and structural change in four-year public institutions which are actively engaged in scaling up existing retention initiatives, with a particular focus on the retention and success of underserved students. A resulting set of meeting proceedings will inform the Carnegie Corporations funding priorities.


Bauman, G., L. Bustillos, E. Bensimon, M. C. Brown, and R. Bartee (2005) Achieving Equitable Educational Outcomes with All Students: The Institution's Roles and Responsibilities, Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Milem, J. F., M. J. Chang, and A. L. Antonio (2005) Making diversity work on campus: A research-based perspective. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Williams, D., J. Berger, and S. McClenden (2005) Towards a model of inclusive excellence and change in higher education. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities.