David Ruiter, faculty director of the Teaching and Learning Commons at the University of California San Diego.

President's Forum guest: How higher education can better address inequities

As part of his position as faculty director of the Teaching and Learning Commons at the University of California San Diego, David Ruiter examines the resourcefulness of students in navigating obstacles to harness their learning abilities. 

Ruiter joined President Philomena V. Mantella and Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Fatma Mili for a President’s Forum discussion on February 20 at the Alumni House. 

The discourse among the three revolved around the inequities faced by learner populations and how higher education can produce better outcomes in eliminating social and economic disparities. Mili drew Ruiter’s attention to the loss suffered by learners in the aftermath of the pandemic.

When we talk about loss, there are lots of grieving phases, and the first one is identifying what it is or naming it, sitting with it and then moving forward,” Mili said. “I wonder to what extent either here or at other universities, we are really doing that.”

Audience members listen to the President's Forum.
President Philomena V. Mantella talks with a guest and David Ruiter following the President's Forum.

Ruiter, who mentioned his niece is a Grand Valley graduate, credited the work of university administrators, faculty and staff

“I can't speak on behalf of anyone here, but I would feel like there was, there is no doubt, some sense of loss as to where we were in 2019,” Ruiter said. “And yet, I see your university is growing. You're outperforming your peers. You really are growing and diversifying your student population.”

At UCSD’s Teaching and Learning Commons, Ruiter said he and his staff saw firsthand how students adapted. In the year prior to the pandemic, his staff provided academic support services across 51,000 student appointments. That number jumped to 200,000 student appointments per year since the pandemic’s end, Ruiter said.

We've seen the students shifting from content tutoring to learning strategies,” Ruiter said. “That's telling us that they're seeking what they need to be successful. Our content tutoring services are going down, and our learning strategy services, including supplemental instruction, are going up.”

Mantella concurred that Ruiter’s example was a profound example for higher education institutions in finding what strategies best connected with their students. 

“That’s an interesting depiction of finding the importance of learning strategies, particularly as it relates to a lifetime of learning,” Mantella said. “It becomes an opportunity found in many ways if we lean in to support the work of academic confidence, build learning strategies and build in our work effort overall.”

Ruiter added that public higher education’s early origins were to create more access for people throughout the young nation, and thereby elevate the economic and ethical levels of the people in the region — a model that current institutions should emulate.

Once upon a time in America, higher education was almost entirely private and was very white, very male and very privileged,” Ruiter said. “The belief was that by raising the intellectual level of the populace, region by region, the nation might also raise the economic and the ethical levels of the peoples and regions of the country.  

“That was the idea which gives us a lot to reflect on and consider as we attempt to uphold those values and improve on how we enact them in our time in all its complexity.


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