ELPA Higher Education program pushing the boundaries of equity-centered scholarship, policy, and leadership

It’s not uncommon today for graduate programs dedicated to examining the field of higher education to touch on various aspects of equity, diversity, and inclusion.

In fact, such curriculum is increasingly expected — and important for institutions, practitioners, researchers, and scholars, alike.

“The issue is that at a lot of institutions, equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) work is embedded in one class students have to take,” says Brian Burt, an associate professor with UW-Madison’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis (ELPA), and co-coordinator of its Higher Education program. “It fulfills a requirement and is a box students check on their way to a degree.”

Brian Burt

Burt adds: “What sets us apart is how EDI work is a through line — it’s infused in everything we do. That makes us distinctly different.”

To that end, the Higher Education program at UW–Madison offers a diverse and holistic understanding of the evolving issues society currently faces. This focus on EDI efforts is vital because postsecondary institutions hold the potential to generate positive and lasting change.

“At the same time, these institutions can also create and perpetuate inequities — making higher education an incredibly important and interesting area to study, practice, and enact change,” says UW–Madison’s Xueli Wang, who holds the Barbara and Glenn Thompson Professor in Educational Leadership. “This work helps us learn and unlearn, dismantle and rebuild, and imagine and reimagine a better higher education for all.”

In addition to the focus on EDI work, another factor that makes this Higher Education program so highly regarded is the range of expertise among the world-class ELPA faculty and staff.

Xueli Wang

“Our higher education program is unique in the sense that we represent an expansive range of topical expertise and interests,” adds Wang, who has dedicated much of her academic career to improving the higher education landscape to help students — especially those who begin their journey at two-year colleges — find their path to success. “Despite having expertise in an array of areas, we do not operate in silos as scholars and educators. Rather, our scholarship, teaching, service, and practice all connect to equity and social justice — which defines, shapes, and reshapes our identities, individually and collectively.”

Faculty members associated with ELPA’s Higher Education program include (click on names to learn more about everyone’s areas of expertise):

  • Brian Burt, associate professor and co-coordinator of the Higher Education program
  • LaVar Charleston, clinical professor and UW–Madison’s deputy vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion, the vice provost and chief diversity officer for the university, and the Elzie Higginbottom director of the Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement.
  • Clifton Conrad, a Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor
  • Elton Crim, clinical professor and director of the Higher Education master’s program
  • Nicholas Hillman, professor and co-coordinator of the Higher Education program
  • Jerlando Jackson, who concurrently holds the Rupple-Bascom Professor of Education and the Vilas Distinguished Professor of Higher Education, and is department chair
  • Weija Li, clinical professor and the director of the Global Higher Education program
  • Peter Miller, professor and director of the Master of Science in Sports Leadership program
  • Xueli Wang, the Barbara and Glenn Thompson Professor in Educational Leadership
  • Rachelle Winkle-Wagner, professor

There are three specific concentrations of study within ELPA’s Higher Education program that graduate students can select: student affairs administration; intercollegiate athletic administration; and two-year colleges.

The program offers a broad range of course selections, with foundations in: administration; organization; governance; teaching and learning; and policy and research. It also gives students the unique opportunity to study: minority serving institutions; legal and financial aspects of higher education; the politics of higher education; academic programs in colleges and universities; ideas of the university; diversity and inequality in higher education; the American community college; assessment in higher education; perspectives on college student identity and development; administrative services in higher education; and critical leadership issues in coaching.

Jerlando Jackson

Students completing this higher education work tend to move into a variety of leadership roles in colleges, universities, and technical colleges.

“Student enrollment in our Higher Education program has grown significantly over the last 10 years, contributing to the vibrant student and alumni community of the department,” says Jackson. “Of particular note, graduates of the Higher Education program boast positions as college presidents, endowed professors, college athletic directors, chief diversity officers, and research analysts at policy centers, to name a few.”

This high-quality program is increasingly being noticed at the national level. Earlier this year, U.S. News and World Report ranked the UW–Madison School of Education’s Higher Education Administration graduate program No. 10 in the nation. This is not only due to the high quality of scholarship ELPA’s higher education faculty produce, but also because the program’s alumni are actively creating positive change in higher education.

Similarly, the UW–Madison School of Education was again ranked among the very best in the nation, checking in at No. 4 in U.S. News and World Report’s 2022 Best Graduate Schools rankings — marking the eighth straight year the School was ranked among the top five in the nation.

“Higher education institutions can be slow to change,” says Burt. “But our faculty are very committed to thinking about, ‘How can we get to where we want to be as a society?’ And if we want change, we can’t keep teaching the same things and in the same ways of the past. We’re doing this EDI work, researching burning questions, and bringing what we learn into the classroom because we want to prepare our students to be leaders of the future — not the past.”

Higher Education Program faculty

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