The Future of Leadership Education: A Partnership Explored

Since 2012, ACUI has been a part of the Inter-association Leadership Education Collaborative (ILEC), a group of eight higher education associations committed to furthering the future of leadership education. In late 2016, ILEC produced a white paper titled: “Collaborative Priorities and Critical Considerations for Leadership Education,” which serves as an imperative for leadership educators. The white paper provides three priorities, from a variety of perspectives across higher education, for leadership educators to incorporate into their daily practice and future planning.  White Paper Cover

Over the past four years, ACUI has been on the forefront of this conversation, bringing the cocurricular perspective to this dialogue. While the faculty and research side is crucial, one must not forget those who use theory in daily practice. Leadership education is a major component of the educational plan within the Association, with Leadership as a core competency for the college union and activities professional. In looking at the application of the ILEC priorities, ACUI and members are already implementing guidance from the white paper and more opportunities exist for the future. 

The First Priority

“Building Inclusive Leadership Learning Communities” includes the elevation of underrepresented voices in the conversation as well as preparing both leadership educators and students for future work in addressing shared societal problems. This is a relevant topic, as many campuses have become an epicenter for debates on racial injustices, human rights inequalities, and many other equity and inclusion topics. College unions and cocurricular programs are often referred to as “learning laboratories.” Now is the time for leadership educators to step up and assist students in learning about and executing effective leadership practices, developing competence in having meaningful dialogue about social concerns, and developing the capacity to influence positive social change. In these moments, we are frequently challenged by students in roles as leadership educators and campus administrators to “practice what we preach.” One way that campuses can enact this priority is to answer the question, “How are we modeling effective leadership practice for the students that we are expecting to do the same?”  

From an Association standpoint, deepening competency in the areas of intercultural proficiency and leadership have been long-standing goals within ACUI, but this priority calls us to look at the intersection of these two areas. As such, ACUI will engage in continued examination of how topics and examples of social justice and current events are infused in the curriculum of the Institute for Leadership Education & Development (I-LEAD®) and I-LEAD® Connect, the Association’s premier student leadership programs. ACUI will also continue the implementation of a communications strategy for Association leaders to respond to world events, in a way that both challenges and supports members to learn and grow, yet remains congruent with the Association’s values. Finally, necessary to achieving the vision will be the continued willingness of the Association and members to recognize, look for, and confront any biases or privileges in processes, materials, or other businesses through initiatives such as the Council for Diversity and Inclusion and in all work that we do. 

The Second Priority 

“Expanding Evidence-Based Practice through Assessment and Evaluation” calls on leadership educators and professional associations to ensure more than just anecdotal evidence is used to measure the outcomes of leadership education and that professionals’ work is grounded in theory and research/data. On the campus level, this is a call for professionals to incorporate more scholarship into curriculum and program planning. This second priority pushes leadership educators to dust off the skills gained in graduate programs and apply them to everyday work. Furthermore, this priority emphasizes the ever-present need to support individual and programmatic outcome accomplishments with assessment and evaluation. Finally, professionals must continue to share knowledge through publications and presentations of data analysis.  

For ACUI, this means continuing to educate members on areas such as leadership theory, relevant leadership education research, and assessment practice. This can be done as a complement to or in conjunction with existing programs. In an organization like ACUI, where some professionals may identify as “leadership educators,” many others are educating about leadership through practical experiences without that identification. Thus, it is critical to communicate these materials in Association publications, so they are seen as approachable to those without a leadership education background. Additionally, it is irresponsible to assume members all have common and sufficient training in these areas, so enhancing preparation is necessary. As regional program coordinators and Conference Program Teams continue their planning, the inclusion of sessions on leadership education, grounded in both theory and practice will be important. Additionally, ACUI needs to model the way for campuses, and ensure premier leadership programs like ACUI’s I-LEAD® and I-LEAD® Connect continue to have curricula grounded in theory and up-to-date research. Finally, ACUI and institutions should ensure programmatic offerings have data to support the claims of effectiveness through ongoing assessment.  

The Third Priority

“Enhancing Our Community of Practice through Professional Development and Resources” calls for leadership educators to work to continually educate and build their capacity for leadership education through professional development opportunities. For campus-based professionals, this can be as simple as setting a reading goal to read one article a week to keep up on current trends and research or as broad as the infusion of leadership theory coursework into student affairs graduate programs. The third priority is the reminder to access the many resources ACUI offers. With the expansion of technology, these resources have become lower cost and more widely accessible to all professionals. 

For ACUI, this priority reflects a need to make leadership education an ongoing priority, while harnessing the collective strengths of members and streamlining offerings to become most effective in times of limited resources. This can be through initiatives like ACUI’s new Leadership and Service Education Community of Practice, which highlights the recognition of leadership education as a field. Or, the collaboration of groups like ACUI and the National Clearinghouse for Leadership Programs on a variety of online learning opportunities, such as the virtual leadership conference hosted in 2016. Finally, associations like ACUI need to facilitate the capacity creation for, and ongoing publication of, research and program evaluation that contributes to the knowledge of the field as a whole. The Research Program Team has already begun to foster these efforts through its Virtual Research Institute. 
These three priorities provide direction for all campuses and professional associations to move forward in the area of leadership education. The work of this collaborative “is necessary to address the gap between our aspirations for a better society and evidence of real and lasting change,” the white paper asserts. As leadership educators review current and future potential initiatives, these priorities ground us in a thoughtful and proactive way to achieve that vision. 

Questions about the report and how ACUI can best utilize it be directed to Brian Magee at or Missy Burgess at
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