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About NCPI

A Message From the Director

In April of 1996, the National Center for Postsecondary Improvement (NCPI) opened its doors to undertake an ambitious agenda of research, dissemination, and outreach activities for the improvement of higher education in the United States. Funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI), NCPI was extended beyond its initial five-year grant for three more years, so that we could delve more deeply into research questions and findings that proved to be even more significant than initially anticipated.

NCPI leaves a distinctive legacy as a successful collaborative endeavor that illuminated complex challenges and supported innovative approaches to improving higher education. In addition to honoring all the initial commitments to OERI, NCPI researchers, staff, and graduate students displayed extraordinary professionalism and savvy in extending the impact of their NCPI-funded work across diverse stakeholder groups, including federal and state policymakers, higher education leaders and researchers, employers, parents, and students.

As you read about our research activities and outreach initiatives across U.S. higher education, you will see how we informed dialogue, and offered research-based solutions that supported our constituents in their respective roles. During the grant period, U.S. postsecondary education has been challenged by a turbulent environment, prompting many educators to rethink higher education’s financing, delivery, access, accountability, and management. Offered this opportunity at this key historical moment, we at NCPI were uniquely positioned not only to research, synthesize, and analyze essential information, but also to reach beyond conventional forums for dissemination. In addition to conference presentations and seminars, we convened meetings across the United States, conducted focus groups for constituents within and outside higher education, and generated publications for professional and lay audiences. Our intention in each of these contexts was to provide our stakeholders with reinforcement, as they meet ongoing challenges and prepare for pressing issues in the coming decade.

Over the course of the work, we were gratified to see that our efforts proved fruitful. We provided contexts, language, and approaches to aid institutions and their leaders in reexamining their goals and practices. We provided students and parents with access to sound information and accessible tools with which to make more informed educational choices. We linked employers to educational institutions to facilitate information exchange and practices for developing a more prepared workforce. And we provided policymakers with information to facilitate access and equity; and with effective tools to navigate the complexities of assessment.

Among our noteworthy accomplishments, we developed this uniquely informative and accessible website that not only includes a wide range of worthy publications, but also offers five distinct channels to serve our different audiences. These channels include interactive toolkits developed directly from NCPI research findings—user-friendly, focused, linking information packages designed both to assist users in pursuing the specific information they seek, and to actively facilitate their decision making processes.

In examining the shifting terrain of postsecondary education, NCPI researchers have worked to define a common ground between the often-opposing forces of market influences, and commitments to preserving higher education’s social charter. To facilitate productive discourse about U.S. higher education, NCPI researchers led participants and observers in discussing the social charter, reconsidering the ways higher education serves society, and where it still warrants improvement. From our research and dissemination activities, we learned that higher education still needs to improve educational quality and institutional performance by creating more effective learning organizations, linking knowledge about learning to the practice of teaching, and understanding transformations occurring in the academic workforce. We also learned that unforeseen and profound changes inside and outside the academy make it increasingly important to balance the pressures of market forces with higher education’s public purposes, and to remap the enterprise as a whole.

In looking forward, we present and explicate these areas of need and outline some of the most important areas where research can yield more informed policy and practice. We believe that access remains a key policy goal for higher education, and several of our research projects demonstrate that higher education can be even more effective at educating students beyond the initial threshold of access. To underscore the urgency of this agenda, we coined the key question: "Access to what?" and we engaged in an extensive agenda-setting initiative that culminated in a visionary report on research priorities for the next decade. (1)

As NCPI officially closes on July 31, 2004, we conclude our activities with a grateful thank you to the Department of Education for its support of our efforts over the past eight years, and for the strong oversight by OERI program staff, particularly Gregory Henschel of the National Institute for Postsecondary Education, Libraries and Lifelong Learning (PLLI). I also want to extend a note of appreciation to our institutional partners at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan, and here at Stanford University for providing strong local support for center management in NCPI headquarters. Moreover, Stanford’s generosity continues, in supporting SIHER to maintain the website so that these informative and pragmatic NCPI materials will remain available to the public at no charge. On a personal note, I want to acknowledge the hard work of my staff, who embodied the best of NCPI on a daily basis; the sage advice from the members of NCPI’s Board of Senior Scholars: and the close collaboration, tireless effort, and dedication throughout the entire NCPI grant from my colleagues on the Executive Committee: Peter Cappelli, William F. Massy, Michael T. Nettles, Marvin W. Peterson, Richard J. Shavelson, and Robert Zemsky.

We look forward to continued collaborative research and outreach initiatives that will improve higher education in the U.S. and abroad.

Patricia J. Gumport
Executive Director

(1) Gumport, Patricia J., Peter Cappelli, William F. Massy, Michael T. Nettles, Marvin W. Peterson, Richard J. Shavelson, and Robert Zemsky. 2002. Beyond Dead Reckoning: Research Priorities for Redirecting American Higher Education. Stanford , CA : National Center for Postsecondary Improvement

NCPI Organizational Structure

Read our original brochure in PDF format.

Headquartered at Stanford University, the National Center for Postsecondary Improvement (NCPI) is an institutional partnership among Stanford University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Michigan. Collaborating research partners include the Stanford Institute for Higher Education Research located at Stanford, the Institute for Research on Higher Education located at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education located at the University of Michigan.

NCPI was founded in 1996 through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) and their National Institute for Postsecondary Education, Libraries and Lifelong Learning (PLLI).

NCPI's executive director and principal investigator is Patricia J. Gumport, director of the Stanford Institute for Higher Education Research and professor of Education at Stanford University's School of Education. Almost 60 researchers have contributed to NCPI, including faculty, research associates, and graduate research assistants.

Executive Director Gumport works closely with NCPIs' Executive Committee, a group of senior researchers responsible for guiding the Center. NCPI's Executive Committee is advised by a Board of Senior Scholars, a group of distinguished researchers and national leaders in postsecondary education. Following is a list of current Board members:

Board of Senior Scholars

David Breneman
Professor and Dean of the Curry School of Education
University of Virginia

Ellen Earle Chaffee
Mayville State University and Valley City State University

Burton Clark
Professor Emeritus of Higher Education, Graduate School of Education
University of California, Los Angeles

James Duderstadt
President Emeritus and Professor of Science and Engineering
University of Michigan

Bernadine Chuck Fong
Foothill Community College

Bruce Johnstone
Professor, SUNY at Buffalo
Former Chancellor of the SUNY System

Richard Lyman
President Emeritus and J.E. Wallace Sterling Professor of Humanities
Stanford University

James March
Professor, Graduate Schools of Business and Education
Stanford University

Michael McPherson
Macalester College

Yolanda Moses
American Association of Higher Education

Condoleezza Rice
Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
National Security Council
Washington DC 20504

Lee Shulman
Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching

Neil Smelser
Professor Emeritus
University of California, Berkeley

NCPI in Action

NCPI research is disseminated at several professional conferences, including the annual meetings of the American Association of Higher Education (AAHE), American Educational Research Association (AERA), Association for Institutional Research (AIR), and the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE).

NCPI convenes groups of parents, students, faculty, employers, and civic and educational leaders in selected communities across the country. The panels provide ongoing opportunities to test the effectiveness and quality of materials developed by NCPI for postsecondary education's stakeholders, to share its research and gather feedback, and to add the opinions of these stakeholders to those of the scholars and experts responsible for the Center's research and operation.

Washington Public Policy Seminars

The Washington Public Policy Seminars are a vehicle for presenting the results of NCPI research or Center-related research to members of the Washington policy-making community.

Seminars have concluded, but a list of past seminars is available.



Copyright © 2001 National Center for Postsecondary Improvement, headquartered at the Stanford Institute for Higher Education Research (SIHER).