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Transformation for More Successful Educational Engagement

One of the longest-lived and most deeply felt debates at the University of Minnesota for the past several decades has been over the rationale for the continued existence of General College.

General College (GC) was founded in 1932 as an open admission college at the University of Minnesota for students less well prepared, by training or academic background, to succeed in narrowly-focused fields of major study. In the 1960s, as junior colleges were established in Minnesota, the role of GC was questioned; it responded by focusing on serving new populations, such as ethnic minorities and low-income students previously bypassed. In the 1980s and again in the 1990s, proposals to eliminate GC were brought forward but were defeated.

Finally, as a result of the UM's Strategic Positioning Initiative during the 2005-06 academic year, it was decided that GC will become the Department of Postsecondary Teaching and Learning in the revamped College of Education and Human Development as of July 1, 2006. As announced on its web site, "The new department will continue and extend the core teaching and research interests of faculty from the former General College. It is envisioned as a national and international leader in postsecondary student academic and civic engagement, with particular emphasis on disseminating best theories and practices to foster the success of underserved and underrepresented students."

In the final, Spriing 2006 issue of Access, the General College Magazine, Provost Tom Sullivan had this to say about the transition:

The General College has a mission that has changed over time to best serve students, the University, and the state of Minnesota. Each set of changes brought renewal. Often these changes were motivated by demographic changes and realignments of the structure of higher education in our state. In many ways, the General College exemplifies how new directions, and new possibilities, can thrive within a tradition of deep commitment to access and diversity.

It is appropriate, then, in this final issue of Access, that we look to the series of exciting changes ahead, while always keeping in full view the paramount values of the General College.

The General College will be transforming into a new Department of Postsecondary Teaching and Learning in a newly reconfigured College of Education and Human Development. It is a new name, yet one that identifies and extends the special teaching and research mission for faculty, staff, and students.

We relish the potential for the Department of Postsecondary Teaching and Learning. In collaboration with new colleagues, the department can set the highest standards for the theory and practice of teaching and learning in higher education—especially in addressing complex societal issues such as eliminating demographic disparities in educational achievement. The department is uniquely situated to make this invaluable contribution.

The promise for the new department and the new college is exciting. A vital element of this integration is that the University’s commitment to access for motivated students from all backgrounds will be reinforced and reinvigorated.

Reconfiguring university programs is always hard, but bringing programs together to provide mutual support and synergies is a win-win approach. The new college, with the new department as a key component, will be crucial if the University of Minnesota is to realize its urban agenda and contribute to the post-secondary academic success of all the children of Minnesota.