Colleges must prove students are learning or forfeit public support and funding, said Earlham President Douglas C. Bennett at the American Council on Education conference, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. Legislators and the public are losing confidence in colleges’ ability to guarantee their own quality without external regulation.
“Quality assurance is a shared professional responsibility,” Mr. Bennett said. “Except to the outside, to legislators and the public, it sometimes doesn’t look like we’re paying much attention. They think somebody else should be the watchdog. And we wouldn’t like whatever would replace shared professional responsibility.”
For that reason, Mr. Bennett said, colleges should be much more open about their assessments of their students’ learning. “It is absolutely untenable for us to tell the public, ‘We’re assessing student learning, but we can’t tell you exactly what we found,’” he said.
“I think we can all agree that saving accreditation is not the goal,” said Jamie P. Merisotis, president of the Lumina Foundation for Education, who was on the same panel. “Transforming accreditation should be the goal.”
Mr. Merisotis and Belle S. Wheelan, president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges, both expressed interest in the idea of a graded system of accreditation, in which colleges could receive, say, a “gold level” accreditation for having the highest quality of instruction, a “silver level” for a lower quality, and so on.
None of the panelists backed nationally normed multiple-choice assessments to determine if students are learning.
“What we need are authentic indicators of learning,” said George D. Kuh, who is one of the principal investigators of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment, based at Indiana University at Bloomington. By that he meant projects and papers—preferably embedded within students’ courses—that let students demonstrate their ability to apply the facts and concepts they have learned.
Speaking from the audience, Deborah A. Freund, president of the Claremont Graduate University, called for following graduates in their careers to see how well they do.