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Report Finds Uneven Sanctioning by Accreditors

An analysis of key actions 10 institutional accrediting agencies took over five years found a "highly uneven and inconsistent system of sanctions." The report from the Center for American Progress, which has previously chided accreditors for their oversight of poor-performing colleges, found that national accreditors are more likely to sanction their member colleges, but that regional agencies keep institutions on sanction for longer periods of time. The group recommended "clearer, common rules of the road about sanction terminology, definitions and use."

Southern accreditor puts five colleges on probation

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The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools has put four small private colleges and one community college on notice, mostly due to financial problems.

Essay on challenges community college students face in transferring to earn four-year degrees

Tackling Transfer

Growing up in a low-income family, David Machado knew he would have to find creative ways to pay for college.

After graduating from high school in Florida in 2004, he joined the U.S. Navy for the Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits and a chance to gain medical experience as a hospital corpsman. And when he went into the reserves in 2010 to have more time to focus on his education, he enrolled in community college, first in North Carolina and then in Connecticut.

Though he had been planning to transfer to a state school or the University of Connecticut, an English teacher convinced him Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., would be a good fit, allowing him to pursue his passions for poetry and painting and his childhood goal of becoming a doctor.

“I fell in love with writing and what he taught, and he’d talk about Wesleyan,” said Machado, now 29.

But his road to transfer wasn’t always smooth. He didn’t find out about a program for automatic transfer to UConn until he had too many credits to qualify. His community college adviser didn’t answer his emails, so he had to drop into his office to get help. Eventually he gave up on the adviser, relying instead on the advice of professors and others, who led him to other opportunities like a summer medical education program at Yale.

Still, he didn’t always take the right classes in his two years in community college.

“I didn’t understand the transferability of classes at the time, so I was just taking classes that would be of interest and would satisfy the pre-med requirements,” Machado said. Because many of his classes only transferred as electives, and some as three credits instead of four, Machado entered Wesleyan as a sophomore.

Though as many as 80 percent of community college students want to transfer, a study by the Community College Research Center, the Aspen Institute and the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released in January found that only 14 percent of degree-seeking students earned a bachelor’s within six years. And research has found many pitfalls in the process of transferring from a community college to a four-year school.

Frequently, students at community colleges are advised to take courses that end up not being accepted by the local four-year campus. When courses transfer, many are accepted only as electives and do not count toward the students’ majors. In other instances, the prerequisite courses students need to transfer with junior standing aren’t offered in a given term, and so students either lose time waiting to take the courses or have to transfer and take them at the higher university cost. Research conducted by Public Agenda on the student experience of transfer found that a number of recurring themes are embedded in the stories of students like the one above:

  1. Well-meaning but overwhelmed and underprepared general advisers at community colleges who lack the time and resources to provide students with correct and up-to-date information about degree pathways;
  2. Faculty advisers who are critically important but dangerously siloed;
  3. Diffuse and scattered information resources on transfer that students have difficulty accessing or effectively navigating;
  4. A lack of clear programs of study that carry through the community college into the four-year institution and through graduation;
  5. Insufficient or dysfunctional channels of communication between faculty and staff within and across two-year and four-year institutions, fueled by institutions’ cultural histories of suspicion and competition.

For first-generation and lower-income students, unconfident learners and students who lack clear goals, the stakes of these challenges are particularly high. Public Agenda research found that community college students often blame themselves for the barriers they face in seeking to transfer. Students not only lose time and money as they attempt to navigate broken systems, they also lose hope in their ability to make a better life through education.

In focus groups conducted by the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin, students shared some of their frustrations with the transfer process.

I’d rather look for myself than ask for somebody to answer the questions, because I’ve had cases where those questions weren’t answered correctly, and since they’re not answered correctly it’s a big, big mistake. … If you miss a deadline because somebody answered your question wrong, you start getting skeptical about the advice you’re getting.

A quote from Public Agenda’s research captures the hope deficit that is created through the problems community college transfer students face.

I’m getting tired of school. I had a plan and thought I was doing everything right, and everyone I talked to [at the school] seemed so sure they were giving me the right information, so I never questioned it because I had no idea what I was doing. But here I am and I’ve probably lost two whole semesters taking classes I didn’t need or that ended up not transferring or counting toward my major. I don’t even want to think about the money I lost, because I couldn’t afford to lose it … at this point, honestly, I don’t know if I’m ever going to finish. I’m just getting tired.

The stories of transfer students show the dogged persistence needed to make it.

Jordan Kratz came out of high school in 2012 planning to be a veterinary technician. She chose SUNY Canton in northern New York for its specialized curriculum. But by the spring of her second year, Kratz, from Ballston Spa, N.Y., decided she didn’t want to work with animals full time and applied to transfer to Ithaca College.

“I actually did a total flip,” she said in a recent interview. “I’m in communications management and design.”

Kratz, now 21, dived into research on four-year colleges with the help of her parents and advice from friends. She didn’t turn to her adviser, who was a veterinarian experienced in helping students going to veterinary school.

“I didn’t know if he would have the advice for me that I was looking for,” she said.

The Ithaca admissions office was helpful, answering questions and offering tours, but it wasn’t until she enrolled that she got the full story on how her Canton credits would apply to requirements at Ithaca. Because Ithaca has a very specific core curriculum, many of Kratz’s credits only transferred for general credit.

“On my transcript it just says, ‘transfer elective,’” she said. “It doesn’t even say what the course was.”

In order to catch up, she has to take a series of courses in humanities, creative arts, social sciences and diversity on top of the upper-division courses in her major. But because she has senior standing, the registration system locks her out of the core classes designated for freshmen and sophomores.

“I’m actually having a hard time getting into them as a transfer student,” she said. By the time she files the override paperwork and, if that fails, appeals to the dean, the classes are full.

“You would think when they know you’re a transfer student they would override you into those classes,” Kratz said.

With four more core classes to go, in addition to other requirements, she’s hoping to graduate in the spring of 2017. By then she will have many more credits than she needs to graduate, even after having taken a semester off as she transferred.

“If I did the typical four years in college I should graduate this May,” she said.

Creating the conditions for more students to successfully transfer with junior standing in their majors is the collective work of institutions, systems and policy makers. Students share in the responsibility, but systems need to work better for the majority of students who come to community college with fewer supports and less confidence than Kratz.

As institutional leaders and policy makers seek to diagnose and address a tremendous host of challenges facing transfer students, elevating the voices and perspectives of students themselves is an essential piece of the work to be done.

Alison Kadlec is senior vice president and director of higher education and workforce programs at Public Agenda. Elizabeth Ganga is a communications specialist at the Community College Research Center at Columbia University's Teachers College.

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Florida A&M Trustees Put Off Decision on President

Florida A&M University’s Board of Trustees decided Friday to take no action on President Elmira Mangum’s future, choosing not to renew her contract as she enters the final academic year of a three-year deal following a recent history marked by contention and criticism -- even as some students and alumni praise her for making long-overdue changes.

Trustees indicated they would take up Mangum’s contract at their next meeting, currently scheduled for September. That means they’ll revisit the issue after the passing of a deadline written into Mangum’s contract calling for her and trustees to confer on a renewal or extension by June 30. If no deal is reached, the contract calls for Mangum to complete her term in April 2017.

But board Chairman Kelvin Lawson said he wanted more data on Mangum’s performance before the board acts. He had asked Mangum for a 45-day contract deadline extension, allowing board members to evaluate her performance and review a self-evaluation she submitted Thursday. The two sides did not agree on a timeline extension, prompting the board to delay action after virtually no public discussion.

Eight of FAMU’s 13 trustees are new in the last six months. Lawson and Mangum have been on opposite sides of the table in the past, with Lawson moving to fire her in October.

While trustees shared few public comments on the contract during their meeting, FAMU faculty members, students and alumni addressed the issue during an extended public comment session. Some urged the board to keep Mangum, saying she was dealing with issues that would be difficult for any administrator to manage. Others urged them to replace her, arguing the university is not in a better place after two years of her management.

Mangum herself appeared to allude to the issue during a report to the board that came before trustees voted on her contract. She is focused on putting money into classrooms and students, and FAMU has improved its performance under Florida’s performance funding model, she said. But she argued that the institution has to adapt to keep up with societal changes.

“We will continue to make the tough decisions,” she said. “Because that’s the only way we are going to get a different outcome.”

The decision not to act on the contract came a day after a high-profile 11-member group addressed a harshly worded open letter to the Board of Trustees, urging against the renewal of Mangum’s contract. The Reverend R. B. Holmes, a former FAMU trustee and president of the Tallahassee Chapter of the National Action Network, was the lead signee of the letter. Other signees included former FAMU presidents and former interim presidents.

The letter alleged improprieties, mismanagement and inconsistencies during Mangum’s tenure. It cited disenfranchisement of students, faculty, alumni and staff while also arguing that controversy and division swirled around Mangum’s administration. It also pointed to tension between administration and faculty, disharmony within the administration’s leadership team and staff, and a purported lack of vision, goals and objectives. In addition, the letter brought up a charge that has repeatedly been levied at Mangum: poor communication with trustees.

“Our future has fallen victim to a recalcitrant administration engaged in a campaign to sustain an individual, not FAMU,” the letter read. “The embarrassing improprieties, mismanagement and inconsistencies are constant.”

Mangum replied to the letter Thursday, saying she did not understand Holmes’s motivation.

“I don’t understand the authority he is speaking from, so I don’t know why he is saying what he is saying,” Mangum said, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.

Senator Urges Tough Stance on For-Profit Accreditor

The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools has a "long record of failure" as an accreditor that warrants tough action by the federal advisory panel that is set to review the agency's recognition later this month, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren says in a report being released today.

The report from Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat who has become a leading voice on behalf of students on debt and other issues, documents the underperforming institutions that ACICS has accredited and the signs that she says the accreditor has ignored. The report warns that the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity -- which at a hearing later this month will review whether ACICS should retain its recognition as an accreditor -- should be judged for its actions regarding ACICS.

"Students and taxpayers have a right to expect that the federal government has their back when it comes to rigorous monitoring of accrediting agencies," the report states. "After years of lax oversight, the Department of Education can meet that standard only if it makes immediate changes in how it handles the accreditor renewal process and clearly demonstrates that it understands the devastating consequences of ACICS’s long record of failure. These changes must start with ACICS at the June NACIQI meeting."

In a written statement, ACICS said it would work with Warren and the U.S. Department of Education on several changes the accreditor has announced recently.

"ACICS takes seriously all criticisms against our organization and we recognize the need for internal reform in order to better protect and serve students," the accreditor said. "That is why we have announced several bold initiatives to both reform and strengthen ACICS’ effectiveness and its oversight of member institutions. We are confident that these measures will re-evaluate, fortify and enhance every aspect of ACICS’ accreditation process."

College Selection Tool With Wage Data

A new web tool will provide information about the expected return on investment for degrees and certificates earned at public institutions in Colorado. The Colorado version of the site, dubbed Launch My Career, went live on Thursday. It's a project led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, College Measures, Gallup Inc. and USA Funds. More state-specific tools are on the way, the groups said, including planned versions for Minnesota, Tennessee and Texas. USA Funds is spending $3.5 million on the project and related work.

The site is designed to help students find and compare colleges at the academic program level. It includes expected earnings, comparisons of those earnings with the investment required to earn a credential, demand for jobs in a field of study -- both statewide and in select metropolitan areas -- and whether others who have pursued the same college program are happy with their jobs, based on data from Gallup. The tool also features a lifestyle goal calculator, which shows the number of years it will take for a salary in a particular occupation to meet the user's lifestyle goals.

“Launch My Career is the only tool that provides information on the ROI of public postsecondary education,” Mark Schneider, president of College Measures and a vice president at the American Institutes for Research, said in a written statement. “The tool is a game changer for students, allowing them to select the right degree program or institution based on their interests or preferred jobs and then compare their selection across multiple institutions.”

Controversial Accreditor Freezes Membership

The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools today will announce a temporary halt in accepting new applications for colleges seeking to become accredited, as well as several other changes, including requirements seeking to ensure more accuracy in self-reported data from member colleges.

The council is a national accrediting agency that oversees many for-profit institutions. It's been under fire lately, due in part for accrediting Corinthian Colleges until the large chain collapsed amid a spate of lawsuits and regulatory challenges. A group of state attorneys general have called on the federal government to drop its recognition of ACICS, as have a coalition of consumer, higher education and labor organizations. The U.S. Department of Education is slated to consider the accreditor's recognition later this month.

ACICS appears to be taking the threat seriously. Albert Gray, the council's president and CEO, stepped down in April. And the accreditor shortly thereafter tightened the screws on ITT Technical Institutes.

“The ACICS Board of Directors is determined to restore trust and confidence in the accreditation process, strengthen ACICS’ oversight of member institutions and ensure that students are receiving a quality education that will put them on [a] path to employment,” Anthony Bieda, the council's executive in charge, said in a written statement. “As we assess the content, structure and effectiveness of all policies and resources, no stone will be left unturned. Every aspect of the agency must be re-evaluated, fortified and enhanced.”

The freeze on new member applications is effective immediately, Bieda said, and will be in place until the accreditor "is satisfied that its program of assessment and review protects student interests, enforces high standards of quality and contributes to the public good."

Other announced changes include:

  • Creation of an ethics board to act directly on potential conflicts of interest, including with ACICS board members;
  • A new data integrity standard that gives ACICS greater explicit authority to sanction programs and institutions that misrepresent their performance through student retention, placement and licensure data;
  • A review of institutions’ written plans for recruiting and admitting students;
  • Greater public disclosure and enforcement of probation standards; and
  • An increase in the frequency and intensity of interim on-site evaluations.

Doubts About Career Readiness From College Seniors

Only 40 percent of college seniors say their experience in college has been very helpful in preparing them for a career, according to the results of a survey by McGraw-Hill Education. Students majoring in arts and humanities are more than three times as likely as other students to say they feel “not at all prepared” for their careers (18 percent compared to less than 6 percent of all other students), according to the survey.

The third annual version of McGraw-Hill's workforce readiness survey found a rise in the perceived importance of preparing for careers in college. While students report that they are increasingly satisfied with their overall college experience (79 percent in 2016 compared to 65 percent in 2014), an increasing percentage said they would have preferred their schools to provide:

  • More internships and professional experiences (67 percent in 2016 compared to 59 percent in 2014).
  • More time to focus on career preparation (59 percent compared to 47 percent).
  • Better access to career preparation tools (47 percent compared to 38 percent).
  • More alumni networking opportunities (34 percent compared to 22 percent).

The survey also queried students about whether they would have chosen a different college path if community college were free, with some of the responses below:

Defining disciplinary learning outcomes and principles for assessment (essay)

The higher education lore is that faculty members cannot agree on anything. Like other myths, this accepted folk wisdom is far from the truth. 

Indeed, over the course of our careers, we have repeatedly observed faculty members coming together collaboratively to address the challenges faced institutionally or in higher education more broadly. More recently, we have been heartened and inspired in particular by those who spent the last several years grappling with a fundamental question: what should students learn in higher education?

Instead of ignoring external pressures to measure and improve college outcomes, faculty members came together under the auspices of the Social Science Research Council's Measuring College Learning Project, which we have helped lead, to address these pedagogical challenges. Faculty members in six disciplines -- biology, business, communication, economics, history and sociology -- engaged in invigorating discussions, lively debates and difficult conversations. Supported by their disciplinary associations and encouraged by their collaborative spirit, they have articulated frameworks for defining learning outcomes in six disciplines and the principles for assessing learning outcomes in the 21st century, as described in the recently released Improving Quality in American Higher Education: Learning Outcomes and Assessments for the 21st Century.

In our work, we have found that faculty members readily agree that higher education is not about efficient acquisition of surface content knowledge and the simple regurgitation of memorized facts.That does not mean that content is unimportant. Content is indeed crucial, but primarily as a building block for more complex forms of thinking. Faculty members are eager to get students to apply, analyze and evaluate from their disciplinary perspectives, to acquire a disciplinary mindset and think like a biologist or an economist.

Faculty members across disciplines in the MCL project rather quickly coalesced around “essential concepts and competencies” for their disciplines, which represent ideas and skills that faculty believe are fundamental to the discipline, valuable to students and worth emphasizing given limited time and resources.There are similarities across disciplines including an emphasis on analytical writing and problem-solving, but these generic skills take form, are defined and are honed within specific fields of study. They are not abstract ideas, but concepts and competencies that faculty members engage, develop and deploy in their work and value in their disciplines.  

Faculty members are also often seen as resisting assessment. But, in fact, what they resist are simplistic assessments of student learning that focus on recollection of knowledge, rely on blunt instruments and are narrow and reductionist. They resist, as would all other professions, externally imposed mandates that fail to reflect the complexity of their jobs or that misrepresent the purpose of higher education. But they also believe that what they are doing makes a difference -- that they are teaching students how to see the world in a new light -- and they would be eager to have the tools to demonstrate their contributions to the development of student cognitive capacities.

Constructive conversations about learning outcomes and assessments require the proper context and frame.That is rarely offered in a world in which we in higher education are on the defensive, trying to argue against externally proposed accountability measures based on distal labor market outcomes, instead of being proactive and making the case on our own terms.There is no shortage of proposals in the public sphere about what higher education should do. But those conversations often lack the voices of faculty members, who are the professionals with responsibility for defining, enabling and assessing what students learn.

The faculty should be at the forefront of the conversations about the purposes of higher education and thus at the center of defining and measuring undergraduate learning outcomes.That is not only a matter of professional duty but also of doing justice to our students.Students from all backgrounds and institutions should have an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.

Years of institutionally incentivized grade inflation and proliferation of course titles have all but made transcripts irrelevant. In our research, we found that most employers do not even ask to see them. And while some recent efforts have aimed to add extracurricular activities and other accomplishments to college transcripts, none of those tell us what students actually know or can do.Taking a class is not the same thing as mastering the concepts and competencies presented. Being a member of a club similarly says little about the skills a student has developed.

In addition to placing faculty and student learning at the center of the conversation, the MCL project is committed to recognizing the complexity of what higher education aims to accomplish and ensuring that any measure of learning is part of a larger holistic assessment plan.The project focuses on the disciplines.That does not preclude making sure that students are also civically minded and globally competent. It only means that we need to be clear about which part of the puzzle one hopes to address with a disciplinary focused initiative.

The MCL project is committed to ensuring that institutions use assessment tools on a voluntary basis. We have elaborated elsewhere the pitfalls of externally imposed accountability. Only by willingly looking in the mirror will higher education institutions make progress toward improving student learning outcomes.

While assessment should be voluntary, it need not be a solitary endeavor. Collaborating with other institutions makes us not only realize that we all face challenges and struggle with current circumstances but also offers insight into possible ways forward. Measures of learning outcomes must be of high quality and comparable, so they can allow multiple institutions to use them and share their insights. Governed by the principle of continuous improvement, assessments -- albeit limited and imperfect -- are necessary tools on the road toward reaching our goals.

As we look toward the future, we are excited and energized by the commitment and thoughtfulness of the faculty members who participated in the MCL project.They have put forth a bold and forward-thinking vision for the future of learning and assessment in their disciplines: a set of frameworks that will be subject to ongoing iteration and improvement in the years ahead. Instead of waiting for the storm to subside, these faculty members and their disciplinary associations have tackled the challenge head on. They have paved the way for a more promising future.

Josipa Roksa is associate professor of sociology and education at the University of Virginia. Richard Arum is chair of sociology at New York University and incoming dean of the School of Education at the University of California at Irvine. They are the authors of Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (University of Chicago, 2011).

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Akron abandons advising experiment with outside start-up after 1 year

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University of Akron abandons its partnership with untested start-up company to provide "success coaches" after one year.

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