Next: A Culture of Innovation

Today, students enter college with more questions and stresses than ever before. Consequently, colleges and universities have greater challenges than ever before in how to meet student needs. American University is evaluating the student experience like no one else is, rethinking higher education and leading the way to what’s next.


RiSE: An initiative supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation


Agility & Innovation: Responding to the challenges of a 21st century institution of higher learning

About RiSE (Reinventing the Student Experience)

When it comes to a student's college experience, higher education needs a 21st-century reboot. Thanks to a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, American University is evaluating how to shift.

RiSE analyzes the challenges facing college students today. We must fundamentally alter how universities function to truly improve their experience inside and outside the classroom. We aim to set up a framework of support that can be replicated at other universities such as:

  • Courses that ease transition into college, increase interdisciplinary awareness, and assist with financial aid
  • A centralized, integrative university culture that emphasizes empathy and relationships
  • An Office of the Student Experience to spearhead enterprise-level culture change and drive strategy using analytics
  • An integrative, team-based advising program to help manage the flow of information
  • One seamless technology system so a student’s information is integrated all in one place
  • A Design Lab to foster an ethos of consistent innovation, assessment and improvement


Agility & Innovation

At AU, we plan carefully, consider perspectives fully, and actively anticipate what is next.
Below are examples of AU’s responses to challenges we already have identified as a 21st century institution of higher learning.

Students First

American University meets the diverse needs of our undergraduate and graduate students by keeping a private college education affordable and ensuring we admit the highest performing students, regardless of background.

American University’s student population is more diverse than ever.

Freshman Minority Enrollment


Freshman Underrepresented1 Minority Enrollment


First-Generation Enrolled Freshman Students


Federal Pell Grants Awarded to Incoming Freshmen2

  1. Underrepresented minorities are not white and identify as African American, Hispanic/Latino, Native American/Alaskan Native, and Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander. These students have pursued higher education at lower rates than white and Asian students.
  2. AU offers Pell Grants to undergraduate students who demonstrate exceptional financial need.

We have shifted resources to better meet the needs of high-performing students from lower-income families, more than doubling the percentage of need-based aid.

Comparison of Merit to Need for Academic Years 2010 and 2016
Academic Year Merit Need
20161 20% 80%
2010 66% 34%
  1. Denotes the academic year that starts with the fall semester of the previous calendar year.

While the private/non-profit national average is climbing, AU’s student debt is trending downward. AU’s average is its lowest in seven years.


21% Decrease

With an acceptance rate at an all-time low, American is becoming even more selective.

Admit Rate


AU offers interdisciplinary graduate educational opportunities to help professionals reach their career goals, including:

PhD in Communication

Accelerated degree completed in three years blends media, technology, and democracy.

LLM en Derechos Humanos y Derechos Humanitario en Español

International human rights and humanitarian law degree taught entirely in Spanish and in a hybrid learning format.

New Master’s Degrees

  • Game Design
  • Terrorism and Homeland Security Policy

Online Master’s Degrees

  • Analytics
  • Applied Evaluation Sciences
  • Business Administration
  • Economics
  • International Relations
  • International Service
  • Nutrition Education
  • Public Administration and Policy
  • Teaching English as a Foreign Language

AU faculty members prepare students for a lifetime of success. In AY2015, 15 percent of our faculty worked with students to apply for national merit-based scholarships.

National Scholarship Recognitions


63% Increase

American University Rankings

#1 Presidential Management Fellow Finalists

2015 2016

#1 Udall Scholars

17 since 2007

#5 Truman Scholars

9 since 2007

#1 Combined Bore Scholarship & Fellowship Recipients

2013, 2014, 2015

Top Producer of Fulbright Scholars

2012, 2013, 2014, 2015

We Know Success sets a new standard for graduate outcomes data. AU delivers candid, reliable information on graduate outcomes to prospective students and families through the interactive website:

We Know Success

Data available by degree:

  • Graduate Outcomes
  • Occupation Stats
  • Employers
  • Salaries
  • Internships
  • Study Abroad
We Know Success

High-Impact Research

At American University, we are not afraid to take risks. We align our research and teaching initiatives to focus on challenges most crucial to the well-being of a future society and to respond to our students’ evolving interests.

Through a process known as AU 2030, our faculty identified priority research areas to help anticipate and respond to what is next. These interdisciplinary areas extend across our schools and departments:

  • Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Big Data
  • Environmental Studies
  • Game Design and Persuasive Play
  • Global Economic and Financial Governance
  • Health, Risk, and Society
  • Human Security
  • Internet Governance
  • Latin American and Latino Studies
  • Metropolitan Studies

Large-scale issues cannot be broached within any single discipline or field. So we have built interdisciplinary research centers between departments and put into place infrastructure for ideation and invention.

Across all academic units, we have prioritized hiring new faculty whose expertise aligns with our goals.


13 out of 39 tenure-line faculty hires for the 2014 and 2015 academic years were within our AU 2030 research areas.

AU is dramatically increasing its investment in the sciences. The result: a flourishing integrative scientific culture and expanding research and development.

Scientific Research and Development Spending 2010 — 2014

126% Decrease

National Science Foundation, NCSES Academic Institution Profiles

American University has moved up to the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education’s middle tier of doctoral granting institutions due to its increased productivity in externally-funded research and expanding doctoral programs.


Our leadership has crafted a supportive research environment to help faculty maximize the impact of their scholarship, professional practice, and creative activities. And through a selective recruitment process, we have attracted a dynamic, diverse group of faculty experts in their fields.

AU has increased full-time faculty by nearly half over the past decade to meet the university’s rising expectations for scholarly impact and continue its commitment to quality instruction.


44% Increase

Through placements and publications, we assist faculty in disseminating their research to a broader audience. Some examples include:

  • Research funding identification
  • Grant-writing consultants
  • Proposal editing assistance
  • Options for varied teaching loads, releases, or course buyouts
  • Dedicated staff to help with media pitching and publicizing research
  • Media training

2 Weeks Time it takes for the Faculty Senate to review a new program proposal

Enhanced National Visibility

Increase in media placements since 2008

(52% of placements highlight faculty expertise and scholarship)

AU’s faculty members are well accomplished in their respective fields of study. Among recent recognitions:

Leadership Positions

  • Amitav Acharya, President, International Studies Association
  • Alan Kraut, President, Organization of American Historians
  • Claudio Grossman, Chair, United Nations Committee Against Torture
  • Charles Lewis, Founder, Center for Public Integrity


  • Laura DeNardis, Information Society Series, MIT Press
  • David Hunter, Yearbook of International Environmental Law
  • Mark Laubach, Journal of Neuroscience
  • Jan Leighley, Journal of Politics
  • Erdal Tekin, Journal of Population Economics


  • Fernando Benadon and Max Paul Friedman, Guggenheim Fellows
  • Ken Conca, Michelle Egan, Adrian LeBas, Jordan Tama, and Matthew Taylor, Woodrow Wilson Fellows
  • Bradley Hardy, Brookings Institution Fellow
  • Sharon Weiner, Council on Foreign Relations Fellow


  • Christine Chin, Distinguished Book Award, American Sociological Association
  • Lisa Leff, Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature
  • Howard McCurdy, John F. Kennedy Astronautics Award
  • Barbara Romzek, John Gaus Award and Lectureship
  • Peter Starr, Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Academiques
  • John Sullivan, Pulitzer Prize for Public Service
  • Russell Williams, Academy Award for Best Sound Mixing (Twice)

We facilitate high-impact learning through collaborative and external strategic partnerships that build each institution’s capacity and broaden shared impact. Our entrepreneurial relationships include:

Educational Testing Service (ETS):

AU and ETS are collaborating in game design and persuasive play and writing assessment. Leveraging institutional expertise and resources, the relationship includes collaborative research, knowledge transfer, exchange programs, pilot sites, summits, and applying jointly to external funding agencies.

Sony Electronics Inc. (SEL):

After first forming a collaboration with AU’s School of Communication in 2014, SEL has now partnered with the university at large. As an AU Strategic Partner, SEL will serve as a solutions provider, integrator, and/or equipment provider for multiple projects, allowing AU to provide faculty and students with state-of-the-art technology that will enhance both the teaching and learning experience.

Deloitte Consulting LLC:

AU and Deloitte are collaborating to establish eminence in the fields of engagement design and persuasive play. In this collaboration, AU and Deloitte are establishing programs and pathways to share knowledge, perspectives, and practices of games-based solutions.

Next: Agility & Innovation Brochure
Reinventing the Student Experience spotlighted in the Chronicle of Higher Education
2015-2016 AU Annual Report