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‘New Foundations’ in Learning

Some of the most creative thinking on how to redesign higher education is taking place at America’s community colleges. Nourished by their communities and uniquely responsive to local needs, our 1,200 community colleges have adopted an agile, entrepreneurial approach to teaching and learning.

Nearly half of all undergraduates in the United States attend a community college, and the work of these dynamic institutions is growing ever more central to our long-term competitiveness. It’s work that will require “new foundations” on which to build the colleges of the future.

Terry O’Banion, president emeritus of the League for Innovation in the Community College, puts it this way: “A learning revolution is spreading rapidly through all sectors of education, and the community college has become the most visible crucible in which the concepts and practices of this revolution are being forged.”

O’Banion says the outmoded “architecture” of education, built to serve agrarian and industrial economies of the past, needs to be overhauled—from the structure of academic departments and the grading system, to “time-bound artifacts” like the hour-long class, the three-hour credit course, and semester or quarter terms.

The architecture analogy works on a literal level. One aim of a recent ETS community college symposium, held in conjunction with the League for Innovation’s fall conference, was to encourage new ways of thinking about college facilities and approaches to teaching and learning. That’s why we titled the event “New Foundations: Building a Culture of Evidence From the Ground Up.”

ETS is committed to the cause. We recently launched a pilot program with Mercer County Community College, near our home in New Jersey, to map students’ strengths and weaknesses in such areas as time management, intellectual engagement, test-taking and study skills, and critical thinking.

At ETS, we’re doing our part. We’re listening to educators, parents and policymakers. We’re learning from sound research. And we’re leading the effort to achieve informed public policy and informed educational practice.

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