You are here: American University About Strategic Plan Theme: Learning


Building on the strength of high-quality teaching, imperatives 3, 4, and 5 will enhance the student experience with efforts focused on improving retention and graduation, support a rigorous learning environment that engages and retains students and faculty, and expand opportunities for lifelong learning experiences that are more flexible, personalized, and accessible.

Imperative 3: The Student Experience

Our students bring American University together. All members of the AU community share a commitment to ensuring that our students thrive while at AU and when they leave the university. Our goal is for our students to have strong curricular, cocurricular, extracurricular, social, and growth experiences at AU, to create mentoring relationships with faculty and staff, and to gain the skills that create a foundation for them to be employed, fulfilled, resilient, and productive members of society once they graduate.

As part of this commitment, we want to ensure that terrific students join the AU community, that they thrive when they are at AU, and that they graduate. Accordingly, AU will continue to enhance its recruitment strategies. AU will also implement a comprehensive retention-to-graduation strategy for both undergraduate and graduate students that prioritizes their academic experience, their experience outside the classroom, and their physical and mental health. As we undertake these new efforts, we will continue to emphasize experiential learning, including through internships and clinical opportunities, and continue offering holistic support services for all students.

One element of this work will be ensuring that the university continues to have a robust population of international students, who bring a global perspective to the campus. Given changes in the world and the United States that have affected international education, including increased competition from universities both at home and abroad, AU will pursue a new strategy for the recruitment of international students that will also enhance its engagement with alumni and parents and development internationally.

Through these efforts, AU will improve both the student experience and its economic security. As a tuition-dependent institution, our financial health depends on retaining and graduating students. Any increase in retention improves revenue. The combination of enhanced student recruitment and retention and the growth of research (and accompanying funding) will enhance AU’s reputation, creating a virtuous circle.

Develop Retention-to-Graduation Strategy for Undergraduates: AU will develop a comprehensive retention-to-graduation strategy to meaningfully increase the university’s retention rates across all undergraduate years, with a particular focus on the first two years. This strategy will be multi-dimensional and grounded in data to address the various dynamics that drive our current retention and graduation rates. It will also integrate with the work of our Plan for Inclusive Excellence and that of our Reinventing the Student Experience program.

Examine Wellness Programs and Other Measures to Support Students: As part of our commitment to our students, AU will examine the wellness and other student support measures necessary to create a thriving student body. The Office of Campus Life will lead an assessment of current resource allocations for services that address physical and mental health needs, academic support services, and disability support services—including impacts on retention and the student experience—and recommend adjustments.

Assess Support for Graduate Students: The Office of the Provost and the Office of Campus Life will conduct a needs assessment of gaps in support services for both face-to-face and online graduate students, such as whether critical services are open only during the day when many face-to-face graduate students are typically not on campus, in conjunction with the development of our digital strategy.

Reorient International Student Recruitment and Global Engagement: AU will implement a regional-focused hub structure to drive its international student recruitment and other aspects of its international engagement in priority global regions.

The hubs will focus on priority global regions. We have selected these regions based on the following criteria: a critical mass of alumni and parents, growth potential for future undergraduate and graduate students, AU’s existing relationships in the region, the strength of AU’s brand in the region, and development opportunities. The first hub will focus on the Middle East/Mediterranean region. We will establish it in the summer of 2019 to facilitate anti-melt initiatives for the fall 2019 entering cohort and to begin recruitment for the class that will enter in fall 2020. (In international areas not covered by a regional hub, the Office of Enrollment will continue to be responsible for student recruitment.)This model will be complemented by the continued use of Shorelight to recruit and diversify international students at both the undergraduate and graduate level.

Develop Tailored Recruitment and Retention Strategies for Undergraduates: AU will develop tailored recruitment and retention strategies for other targeted populations of students, including Latinx, Black/African American, Asian, military-affiliated, and DC Public Schools students. These strategies will focus on the value proposition of an AU education for those populations, the support they will receive to help them successfully navigate AU, and the sense of belonging they can find at AU. Such efforts will help ensure that AU continues to achieve its student enrollment goals and that the student body reflects a wide range of backgrounds and experiences.

Establish Gap-Year National Service Program: The Office of the Provost, in partnership with the Office of Campus Life, will explore establishing a gap-year program in partnership with national service organizations, perhaps building on the foundation of the AU Gap Program. Before matriculating to AU, students in this program would spend the year engaged in an intensive service project, accompanied by an online learning module provided by AU.

Improve Common Technology System for Supporting Undergraduate, Graduate, and Professional Students: We will explore how best to broaden and mature the use of a common client relationship management (CRM) system for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. We will also assess how to use the CRM system to integrate advising by academic advisors and faculty and all student support offices to holistically support students, including early intervention for those who struggle early on in their college experience. We will explore implementing a micro-grant program to help faculty develop opportunities for students to collaborate with them on research projects, and providing no-cost summer housing options for undergraduate students if they are conducting research projects with faculty.

Implement Optional Mindfulness Program: We will explore the possibility of developing an optional mindfulness program as a pilot for undergraduate and graduate students.

Expand the Regional Hub Model for International Student Recruitment and Global Engagement: Based on our experience with the first hub, we will explore launching the next hub in Asia in 2020 and an additional hub in Latin America in 2021–22.

Expand Tailored Recruitment and Retention Strategies: We will explore what steps are necessary to put AU on a path to becoming a Hispanic Serving Institution by 2030.


In five years, AU will have meaningfully increased undergraduate retention on a year-to-year basis and will have improved four-year graduation rates. Indicators of student inclusion, belonging, satisfaction, rigor, and engagement as measured by the campus climate survey, NSSE, and the fall transition survey will have improved. We will have also increased retention of graduate students and reduced transfer rates to other universities.

Measuring Success and Outcomes

AU is implementing a comprehensive student thriving strategy that examines the student experience from admission to graduation. AU is working to increase undergraduate and graduate retention, improve four-year graduation rates, reduce transfer rates, and improve indicators of student inclusion, belonging, and satisfaction. AU is using multiple strategies to continue to attract a robust population of international students who bring a global perspective to our campus.

Imperative 4: Learning for Undergraduate, Graduate, and Professional Students

As previously noted, one of AU’s key points of distinction is its commitment to faculty who excel at both research and teaching—and are committed to infusing their teaching with their research. This combination creates a unique learning experience for our students. By building on our existing strength in both research and teaching, AU will create a rigorous learning and scholarly environment that attracts and retains faculty, undergraduate students, graduate students, and professional students. Through their experiences inside and outside theclassroom, AU’s students will be prepared to be changemakers locally, nationally, and globally following graduation.

Develop World-Class Opportunities in Research, Writing, and Learning: AU will build on the promise of the new AU Core, AU’s portfolio of graduate and professional education, AU’s PhD programs, and AU’s leadership in experiential education to create world-class knowledge opportunities. As part of these efforts, we will provide greater support for faculty development and research on pedagogy across the university, including through continued investments in CTRL’s capacity to support faculty development. The Office of the Provost will review the barriers to interdisciplinary teaching and provide recommendations for how best to remove those barriers at the end of 2019. The Office of the Provost will also explore whether there are ways to build on AU’s existing strengths in internships by enhancing integration with students’ classroom-based educational experiences, which may aid the retention-to-graduation strategy.

Raise the Profile of the Scholar-Teacher Ideal: We will emphasize the scholar-teacher ideal as a key differentiation point for AU throughout university communications.

Expand Experiential Learning Opportunities: We will explore enhancing experiential learning opportunities for undergraduates throughout the Core Curriculum, in our living-learning programs, and in all relevant majors.

Support Programs for PhD Students: We will explore enhancing programming to provide support for PhD students across schools, including programming related to the academic and nonacademic job markets that our students will enter.


In five years, students will demonstrate greater satisfaction with teaching, learning, and mentoring, including the AU Core Curriculum, as evidenced through NSSE findings and other surveys. Student retention rates will have improved, in part due to the focused efforts on faculty-student research opportunities.

Measuring Success and Outcomes

AU is creating a rigorous learning and scholarly environment that attracts and retains faculty and students. Students will demonstrate greater satisfaction with teaching, learning, and mentoring.

Imperative 5: Lifelong Learning

The demands on, and opportunities for, institutions of higher education are expanding exponentially. While the traditional four-year residential program will continue to be the coreof AU, we must also evolve to encompass a future of learning and work that increasingly requires complementary approaches to education. For higher-education institutions, demand is growing for educational programs that can meet these needs, and AU will step up to be a leader for a new generation of lifelong learners. As part of our efforts, AU will develop a digital strategy to ensure that the university meets our learners where they are: on campus, online, and through evolving hybrid-learning modalities. This crucial step will help inform the development of new lifelong learning initiatives.

These learners range from working professionals seeking skills or knowledge, to children attending summer camps, to recent graduates completing online master’s degrees, to alumni looking to take a short course in an area of nonprofessional interest. AU will provide a diverse range of programs—online and in-person, degree and nondegree—to serve these different populations, thereby developing new revenue streams and enhancing the reputation and visibility of AU. AU will also enable seamless transitions across programs to aid the student experience. In short, AU will serve as a changemaker in the delivery of lifelong learning during these changing times for higher education and society more broadly.

Development of AU’s Digital Strategy: AU will identify and onboard a point person to lead development of our digital strategy. The point person will undertake a market analysis of areas of demand and examine how they align with existing AU strengths. Based on this analysis, and in consultation with the deans, the point person will provide recommendations for where to expand existing online programs offered by AU and where to launch new programs. They will also assess what should—and can—be done in-house with respect to supporting digital offerings; what support should be provided by partners (including the development of online learning assets); and what adjustments to program assessment, other processes, incentives, and pricing are necessary for AU to be an effective and nimble actor in this space.

Create a Digital Strategy Office: Once the digital strategy is in place, we will create a central office to collaborate with academic units to coordinate marketing, enrollment, and learner support for nondegree/noncertificate learning; support coordination between cross-school programs; and provide ongoing research and analysis of webinar/program/course success. The central office will aid the schools but not inhibit their discretion to create and launch programs.

Launch New Online Programs: AU will launch the Washington College of Law/Kogod School of Business joint master’s of legal studies degree, the Kogod master’s in marketing analytics degree, and the School of Education’s online education doctorate program, as well as other potential online programs. We will determine what lessons from the launches of these programs can be applied to the development of the digital strategy and the strategy for other lifelong learning programs.

Develop a Nondigital Lifelong Learning Strategy: AU will also conduct a market analysis of areas of demand for the nondigital lifelong learning programs and examine how they align with the university’s existing strengths. We will use this analysis to determine what existing programs, such as the Key Executive Leadership programs and the Washington Semester program, should be expanded; what former programs should be brought back and in what form, such as the Cross-Cultural Preparation program; how to build on existing partnerships, such as that with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute; and what new programs we should pursue. This analysis will also examine whether we need greater price flexibility to effectively compete in this area; whether and what adjustments we need to make to the traditional academic calendar to accommodate these programs; what steps are necessary to develop marketing campaigns capable of driving applications and enrollments; and how to accommodate the space needs of the expanded and new programs.

Expand Digital Strategy: We will explore what additional steps should be taken to build the infrastructure and culture for AU to deploy an omni-channel approach to education (including with respect to registration, billing, a learning management system, and a campus-wide single video-conferencing system).

Pilot New Programs: We will explore developing and piloting at least two noncredit or hybrid programs with potential for visibility and high revenue (above $750,000 net per year), at least one of which would focus on lifelong learners.

Leverage Alumni of Nondegree Programs: We will explore how to leverage the alumni of our existing nondegree programs, including the Washington Semester program and the Key Executive Leadership programs, to better support the university.


In five years, AU will have developed and launched strategies for lifelong learning, involving both digital and face-to-face components, for both degree and nondegree programs. The programs resulting from these strategies will be of high quality and will have generated significant additional revenue on an annual basis. AU also will have identified a structure for successful oversight, management, and operation of these programs.

Measuring Success and Outcomes

AU is developing face-to-face and digital strategies for degree and nondegree lifelong learning experiences and programs for adult learners that reflect the future of work and learning, reaching students at multiple phases of their professional development, and enhancing the university’s reputation and revenue.