assessmentaccountability

Accreditation No Longer at Risk for Oldest Private HBCU

A year after being put on notice by its accrediting agency, Wilberforce University, a private historically black college in Ohio, is in the clear.

In December 2014, the Higher Learning Commission determined the college was out of compliance with key requirements -- such as having an effectively functioning board and sufficient financial resources -- and at risk of losing its accreditation.

Now things are looking much better for the college, and the HLC is praising college administrators for developing "working plans to achieve the goals of the institution" and creating "realistic financial projections which will help the university and its future plans." The accrediting agency has placed Wilberforce under a "standard path" of accreditation, and lifted the order that put the college on notice.

Senate investigative panel opens inquiry about college accreditors

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Lawmakers are looking at how accreditors judge the quality and financial stability of colleges.

New Lumina Papers on Performance-Based Funding

The Lumina Foundation this week released the first four of 13 papers it plans to roll out in coming months on performance-based funding in higher education. At least 35 states are either developing or using funding formulas that link support for public colleges to student completion rates, degree production numbers or other metrics. The Lumina papers look at how those policies are working, with particular interest in their impact on the completion rates of underserved student populations.

"Numerous independent research studies have found evidence that funding models with financial incentives for colleges and universities to help students complete their programs of study result in better pathways and supports for students," the foundation said in a written statement. "The need for finance systems oriented around improving student outcomes is urgent, especially for ensuring more equitable outcomes for students from all racial and ethnic backgrounds."

The first four papers give an overview of outcomes-based funding. Future papers will focus on state policy metrics, the relationship of student incentives to performance funding and institutional responses to the formulas.

Broad Coalition's Goals for the Higher Education Act

A coalition of 12 organizations, including New America, the Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Center for Law and Social Policy, on Wednesday released a set of shared principles for policy makers to consider in the run-up to the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, the law that governs federal aid programs. While the groups have different takes on many issues in higher education, they said the current formulation of the law does not meet the needs of students for high-quality, affordable and relevant educational opportunities.

The groups described seven principles: outcomes are what matter, federal financial aid policies need to be more flexible, higher education needs to do more to connect learning and work, accreditation processes need to be more transparent and rigorous, quality assurance processes should focus more on programs and credentials, policy should encourage innovation and experimentation, and that the Higher Education Act should be better coordinated with other federally funded education and training programs.

"Reauthorization offers the chance to renew our country’s commitment to higher education for all who seek it," they wrote, "while also helping institutions adapt to the fast-paced, technology-driven global economy that their students will face at graduation."

Lumina highlights ways states have increased productivity in higher education

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New report examines Lumina's state-based efforts to encourage public colleges to be more efficient and focused on student success.

Groups to Recognize Public Colleges' Embrace of Assessment

Two university associations plan to recognize institutions that engage in campuswide activity aimed at assessing and improving student learning, for the sake of internal improvement rather than accountability. The Excellence in Assessment designation is a joint program of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, working in conjunction with the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment.

To earn the designation, regionally accredited institutions must show that they have integrated assessment approaches across their campuses, provide evidence of learning outcomes and used the results to guide their decisions and improve student performance; the focus is not on student performance itself. One designation will reward institutions that have recently adopted excellent practices, while another, for "sustained excellence," will identify those that have focused on assessment for years but continued to seek improvements.

Campuses will engage in a self-study and then be reviewed by outside faculty experts.

The real costs of accreditation, and the process's value (essay)

Much has been made in recent months by higher education and political leaders about how the costs to institutions of federal regulation are driving up the price of colleges and universities.

A new report from Vanderbilt University and the Boston Consulting Group claims that institutions spend about $3 billion for regional accreditation. This figure -- based on approximating accreditation costs as a percentage of the overall costs of regulation at 13 institutions and other industrywide data -- seems designed to reach a similar conclusion as an earlier report released by an influential Senate committee: that the cost of accreditation is unusually high.

The previous report claimed that Vanderbilt University’s College of Art and Sciences devotes more than 5,000 hours annually, at a cost of about $2.92 million, to report to its regional accreditor. The earlier study also included data gathered by Duke University asserting that the cost of accreditation in faculty and staff time over the last few years has been about $1.5 million. This is in addition to the $500,000 the university spends each year to manage required reporting related to academic assessment and other matters.

These costs are significantly inflated and irresponsibly misleading. As multiple news outlets have reported, the vast majority of the costs identified in the previous Vanderbilt study were related to regulations related to federal research grants and not accreditation.

In addition, suggesting, as this report does, that the cost of accreditation includes significant faculty costs ignores the reality that accreditation activities are part of regular faculty service and committee work and contribute to the overall improvement of the institution.

Unlike the many regulatory requirements that institutions have to deal with that are really only reporting, the process of peer review creates significant benefit to institutions to help them study themselves with expert colleagues, plan for the future, and discover and address their blind spots.

There is no doubt that colleges, universities and pre-K-12 institutions suffer from overregulation, but accreditation -- a process that reinforces continuous improvement of institutions -- isn’t the primary culprit. Accrediting agencies in both pre-K-12 and higher education are working to streamline their processes, to lower costs and become more cost-effective.

They are also seeking to become more transparent about decision making, and ensure that the broadest range of stakeholders is included in discussions of academic standards and quality -- quality that translates into real improvements at institutions, not just checklist compliance.

So what is the real cost of accreditation?

As two leaders of accreditation agencies -- one that assures quality in over 34,000 pre-K-12 institutions around the globe and the other that provides regional accreditation for over 800 Southern higher education institutions (including Duke and Vanderbilt) -- we estimate the cost of accreditation to be significantly lower than those reported in the Senate report.

A 2012 doctoral dissertation project conducted by Paul Woolston Jr. at the University of Southern California looked at the average cost for institutions seeking to reaffirm their accreditation through three of the six regional accreditation agencies. Woolston found that the average cost -- including both direct and indirect costs -- was $327,254 over a seven- to 10-year cycle. This means the annual cost to institutions ranges from roughly $32,000 to $41,000 per year depending on the length of the accreditation cycle.

Even at doctorate-granting research universities, the average combined direct and indirect cost over this entire span was about $415,000 for these institutions across three accreditation regions. Hardly the millions of dollars being bandied about by those who would like to see the accreditation process dismantled, and certainly an amount that is manageable enough to budget for over the long term.

Moreover, the cost of accreditation is significantly lower than what those unfamiliar with the process might expect because of the volunteer nature of the work. AdvancED, for example, recently brought a 40-member team to examine evidence of school quality in Hillsborough County, Fla., that included significant on-site time to review information and meet with district and community representatives -- a process similar to that undertaken during accreditation of higher education institutions.

If the cost of one day of that single visit was an outright business charge, at an average rate of $2,500 per consultant, the cost for the four-day visit could have exceeded $400,000. However, AdvancED charged the district $4,000 for the accreditation effort plus individual travel and expenses. Institutions are also charged an annual accreditation fee of $750. For Hillsborough, a district of 245 institutions, the cost per year is $183,750. The process resulted in the development of the district’s new five-year master plan that has received significant buy-in from teachers, staff, students, parents and other stakeholders, whose views were surveyed and taken into account to develop the plan.

The reality is that, typically, accreditation costs are only 5 to 10 percent of the costs of overall investment in institutional research and continuing improvement. This, we believe, is a small cost to pay for a vital service that ensures quality and spurs continuous improvement in all areas that affect student learning.

Why the huge disparities between our view and what some of the recent studies have found? For the most part, they reflect some of the confusion about what accreditors actually do, what is required of institutions and what institutions must do to improve themselves.

Accreditation sets standards for quality in pre-K-12 and higher education institutions, and measures and monitors institutional and student performance through a carefully orchestrated multiyear process of peer review. Teams of experts -- including academic deans, presidents and faculty from peer institutions, and nonacademic experts in particular disciplines -- work closely with institutional officials to investigate every aspect of what the institution does.

The process provides an in-depth view into the vital systems of the institution: the effectiveness of instruction, the availability and strength of student support, how the institution is led and governed, its financial management as well as how it uses data in decision making. Accreditors provide their seal of approval after institutions make needed changes and work closely with college and university leaders to develop an ongoing improvement strategy and demonstrate that they have achieved key standards according to clear indicators of performance, including measures of what students learn.

We believe this work represents a significant investment in the future of colleges and schools. A recent survey by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges suggests that this is so. Only about 16 percent of responding institutions said that accreditation is only or primarily an expense to the institution while the vast majority (over 80 percent) saw accreditation as primarily an investment (42.5 percent) or as both an investment and an expense (41.5 percent).

The survey also showed that institutional leaders believe that about two-thirds of the cost is spent on what the institution needs to invest in to improve, while only one-third of the cost is seen as stemming from the specific requirements of accreditation. Likewise, AdvancED conducts biannual surveys of its institutions. Results consistently show that over 90 percent of institutions find significant value in the accreditation process as a primary driver of continuous improvement and accountability. The cost of accreditation is viewed as minimal in comparison to the benefits and impact.

The cost of improving an institution is the singular responsibility of the institution, and part of its daily work. Exemplar colleges -- and even corporations like IBM -- do not consider the work of improvement to be an onerous task or something that an accrediting body forces them to do but an essential part of their management.

We hope that policy makers will come to recognize that the cost of accreditation is what is required to help guide institutions on their improvement journey; it is not the cost of the journey itself.

Belle S. Wheelan is president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. Mark A. Elgart serves as the founding president and chief executive officer for Advance Education (AdvancED).

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8 Colleges to Model New Types of Student Records

Eight colleges and universities have been chosen to participate in a pilot project designed to create new ways to reflect students' academic and other performance. The project, led by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers and NASPA: Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education, is funded with nearly $1.3 million from the Lumina Foundation. Eight institutions (see below) that have experimented with competency-based education or other new ways to gauge students' academic progress have committed to develop new comprehensive student records for some or all of their students.

The eight institutions are:

  • Elon University
  • Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
  • Quinsigamond Community College
  • Stanford University
  • University of Houston-Downtown
  • University of Maryland University College
  • University of South Carolina
  • University of Wisconsin Colleges and University of Wisconsin-Extension

Skills Fund aims to be an accreditor and private lender for growing boot camp sector

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Skills Fund wants to be both a private lender and new form of accreditor for the rapidly expanding boot camp sector, with a heavy focus on students' return on investment.

Cal State U System Expands E-Portfolio Option

The California State University System will make electronic portfolios -- e-portfolios -- available to all its students and graduates, via a three-year agreement the system has signed with Portfolium, a cloud-based platform. The tool will help Cal State students display their academic and professional accomplishments in a digital format, the company said, including ones that aren't easily captured on a traditional résumé or transcript.

The use of digital portfolios is becoming popular. And two higher education groups are exploring how to bulk up the college transcript with more information about student learning and "competencies." At Cal State, more than 80,000 students already have used Portfolium to begin creating digital profiles.

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