Accreditor: Content, graduate impact outweigh student outcomes in importance

Dive Brief:

  • The future of accreditation depends on the idea that, while it is important to track graduation rates and other performance indicators, it is more important for accreditors to regulate the quality of education and pathways to content mastery, according to a recent op-ed by Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors Executive Director Joseph Vibert.
  • Vibert defends the importance of peer review in the accreditation process, saying, "Most would agree that the standards for the education of our physicians should be developed by other physicians, not bureaucrats." The same idea should hold in education, he said, where content or subject matter experts are the best individuals to determine program effectiveness. 
  • More emphasis should be put on the impact graduates in a program will have, rather than how many of them graduate, Vibert said. There's also a question of whether schools ought to be penalized for low social mobility indexes, because they are graduating high numbers of social workers and teachers — which are both lower-earning professions. 

Dive Insight:

The Obama administration placed unprecedented emphasis on the idea that everyone has the right to attend college and leave with a degree and a job offer — and officials sought to hold institutions accountable for ensuring these outcomes. But there are a number of variables that go into student success and degree completion, and not all of them are factors for which a college can control. Increasingly, the conversation in higher ed circles around the idea that colleges are not doing enough to promote affordability and find ways to bring low-income students to campus. But, little of that conversation focuses on the role of states and the federal government to provide that aid. Further, bringing students who are unprepared to campus for the sake of meeting a universal attainment goal only does them a disservice by saddling them with debt and, often, no degree.

Much of the current focus revolves around criticism of for-profit education in that schools have a financial incentive to enroll as many students as possible, whether they graduate and find jobs or not. But, as Association of Public and Land-grant Universities President Peter McPherson recently said, this emphasis actually creates a financial disincentive for institutions to enroll low-income students. And, with funding increasingly tied to outcomes, it creates an incentive to extend the idea of social promotion to the higher ed space, graduating students who are not prepared for the workforce or even graduate school.

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Filed Under: Higher Ed Policy & Regulation