Colleges form alliance to support student-designed learning

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At a convention on the future of learning in 2019, a handful of voices stood out to Philomena Mantella.

The newly appointed president of Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, had used the week of her inauguration to bring together philanthropists, educators and advocates to discuss innovation in higher education. But when the attendees gathered in small discussion groups, Mantella found some of the most insightful thinking came from the students.

“What really became clear is the students talking about their own personal experience and what they needed for success and what they were looking for in an institution was the most compelling element of the program,” Mantella said.

Those interactions inspired Mantella to create a formal pathway for students to help design the future of learning, focused on equity and inclusivity. The result is REP4, an alliance of six colleges and universities that will pilot student-designed programming addressing issues such as access and retention to higher education.

Students in an early pilot at Grand Valley State focused on developing ways to connect their classroom experience to their life after college — from personal finances to networking to finding a career.

Details about the consortium were released to The Associated Press ahead of a virtual press conference announcing it Thursday.

The participating schools are Grand Valley State, Amarillo College in Texas, Boise State University in Idaho, San Jose State University in California, Fort Valley State University in Georgia, and Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania. The name, REP4, stands for “rapid education prototyping,” and students will design programming to be tested and implemented at each school.

“Students need to feel ownership of their own learning, but often traditional practices and requirements stifle their participation," San Jose State University President Mary A. Papazian said in a statement. "We believe REP4 will empower students to create a climate in which all students feel a sense of belonging.”