Transformative learning, like the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities (CUMU), has experienced substantial growth during the past few decades. The original research conducted by Mezirow (1975), who is considered the originator of the transformative learning theory, was focused on individual change: women who had been out of the workforce and were reentering. The experience was challenging in many ways, as issues of self-concept, existing frames of reference, and assumptions were beginning to change. Mezirow described the process as a structural reorganization: something that necessitates reconceiving concepts of self and one’s relationships (Mezirow, 1978).
Students in higher education are voluntarily placing themselves in an environment they hope is safe and that provides them with paths to a better life. At its simplest level, for the traditional student, the transformation would be from adolescence to adulthood. If that is not a “disruptive dilemma” as Mezirow terms it, then what is? Older, non-traditional students, though, are often seeking a career change of some sort, such as the women reentering the workforce who Mezirow focused on for his initial research.
Mezirow’s work is often viewed as being psychological in orientation and hence not seen as addressing social change, but this can become a “chicken or the egg” discussion. Which comes first, personal change or social change? What the authors in this volume do is present strategies in which both the community and the individuals involved have equal opportunity for transformation.
George Kuh (2008) came to the idea of High Impact Practices from the perspective of student engagement. Recognizing that not all student learning occurs in the confines of the classroom or lab, Kuh identified ten particular engagement activities that helped students’ learning (some now number these at 11, with the addition of e-portfolios to the list; Watson et al., 2016). Amongst these activities are service learning/community-based learning, internships, and capstone projects. All of these approaches to student development, learning, and success can and do connect strongly with the city and regional areas served by metropolitan universities. Kuh’s concepts fit well with the concept of transformative learning. They suggest that student learning benefits by participation in activities that take students out of the classroom and into the community in some fashion.
The early work of Mezirow is now viewed more broadly and links with the activities that carry students to learn outside of the classroom. For this issue of Metropolitan Universities, we focus on how institutions are helping large numbers of students to transform from adolescents to professionals in a field, or to re-design their lives through formal education.