SJSU Joins National Alliance to Redesign the Future of Higher Education

Student-designed innovations will be rapidly tested and scaled to address access, engagement and equity gaps in higher ed

San José State University has joined five other colleges and universities, hundreds of high schools, and community partners to launch REP4 (Rapid Education Prototyping) – a national initiative to change the future of education. Unique to the alliance, students will take the lead conducting “Rapid Education Prototyping” to address the urgent challenges of access to education and fully deliver on higher education’s promise of social and economic mobility.

“Educating a diverse student population for professional success and civic engagement is part of our core mission at San José State, and the REP4 initiative is well-aligned with that goal,” said SJSU President Mary A. Papazian. “Our participation in REP4, we believe, will help us strengthen existing efforts and build new approaches that will empower our students to design a learning framework that suits their individual needs and create a climate where all students feel a sense of belonging.”

The REP4 name underscores how student-led Rapid Education Prototyping will engage the voices of learners to design innovative, actionable solutions for pressing challenges. Learners will co-design education prototypes, and the best ideas will be scaled nationwide through the alliance to maximize impact.

American Council of Education (ACE) President Ted Mitchell called the alliance’s approach unique and exciting.“Flipping the model from learners simply giving feedback to learners being designers of education is a truly innovative idea,” Mitchell said. “It’s unprecedented to engage learners directly in the designing experience, and REP4 can serve as a model for higher education nationwide.”

Tackling the crisis in education

The REP4 alliance formed as a response to a growing number of challenges facing higher education: low completion rates, lack of access, and persistent racial gaps across nearly all measures.

According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, citing a 2016 Pell Institute study, the country has struggled to close a persistent gap related to income and degree attainment. From the study: among students in the bottom socioeconomic quartile, 15 percent had earned a bachelor’s degree within eight years of their expected high school graduation, compared with 22 percent in the second quartile, 37 percent in the third quartile, and 60 percent in the top quartile.

COVID-19 has further exacerbated the crisis in education. A December 2020 McKinsey & Company study estimated that “students of color could be six to 12 months behind, compared with four to eight months for white students. While all students are suffering, those who came into the pandemic with the fewest academic opportunities are on track to exit with the greatest learning loss.”

By employing this innovative approach of allowing learners to design solutions, REP4 will focus on improving outcomes and eliminating these barriers.

“As we look to the future of higher education, it is critical that we center the voices and priorities of students who are from communities that have historically been marginalized,” said Connie L. Lurie College of Education Dean Heather Lattimer. “If we re-design to value and build on the experiences and strengths that they bring, we will create universities that better serve all students and communities.”

First prototype

Grand Valley State University designed and held the first prototype last summer and has implemented two ideas from the Learner Engagement Challenge. “We are inspired by young learners with keen perspectives on what their future can be,” said Grand Valley President Philomena V. Mantella. “These learners gave us ideas that will play a key role as we lead the national conversation on a new vision for education. Their insights will help us create a model for an education system designed for learners by learners.”

Each of the six founding partners will hold its own regional summit for REP4, with Grand Valley State University hosting the national convening  August 4 – 5, 2021.

Assistant Professor of Child and Adolescent Development Ellen Middaugh at the Connie L. Lurie College of Education, an expert in youth civic engagement, will help design and implement SJSU’s REP4 summit. “Transformative change requires imagination,” said Middaugh. “This is something adolescents and young adults are great at — creative thinking and imagining a better future. Our Child and Adolescent Master’s students recognize this and will serve as youth-centered facilitators to create a space for our high school, community college, and SJSU undergraduates to dream big and grapple with what it would take to bring their ideas to life.”

The six founding colleges and universities in the alliance collectively serve more than 100,000 students. The founding partners are San José State University; Amarillo College; Boise State University; Fort Valley State University; and Shippensburg University. Grand Valley State University is the organizer and convener of the REP4 alliance.

Microsoft will participate in the REP4 summit to support the alliance in reimagining student-centered experiences, consistent with its recent whitepaper on student-centered learning in higher education. Microsoft will help shape how technology, particularly data and AI, can empower personalized and inclusive learning experiences.

The alliance is intended to grow over time, and other institutions are invited to become involved with REP4. Visit rep4.org for more information.