HEA Renewal Targets University Accountability

Congress, as part of the deliberations during the summer on budget deficits and federal spending , debated the issue of raising interest rates on college loans. This has sparked more focus on accountability for performance of American colleges and universities. In other words, Congress wants to know if students are getting what they pay for? There will be much more attention given to this issue as Congress takes up the debate on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Read more in Education Week this morning:

One area receiving particular attention is providing accountability information to prospective students. Congress invests considerable federal dollars through Pell grants, GEAR UP, TRIO, Upward Bound. etc., to help more students gain access to college. Funding for these programs has been eroding, and Congress is focused on whether the funds that are being spent are producing good results, i.e., are students better able to graduate from college? Are colleges that receive federal funds better able to produce college graduates? Are college graduates employable and ready for success in their careers? The result of these deliberations will likely be some form of a college rating system that provides prospective students and parents information on things like graduation rates, affordability, earnings after graduation, employment, and accessibility. One bill, co-sponsored by Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, would create a national data system that tracks college outcomes and makes that information available to prospective students prior to their application.

Likewise, a variety of bills related to teacher and administrator preparation, including parts of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, aka No Child Left Behind, are focused on evidence of effectiveness of university preparation, including data on student outcomes in classrooms and schools where graduates of schools of education work. Such information is now also being identified by the Teachers Standards and Practices Commission in Oregon to be included in approval processes for state licensing programs.

Public comparisons of school-level outcome data have been a part of the K-12 landscape for over a decade. This has evolved to the point where the majority of states in the U.S. have adopted a common set of standards (Common Core State Standards) and will use one of two proposed measures of achievement (Smarter Balanced Assessment or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers). It is, however, a new step for institutions of higher education to put information on their institutional outcomes and the success of their graduates into the public arena in a way that potential students can compare institutions.

The experience in K-12 indicates that a key question will be whether the indicators can, in fact, help inform practices and institutional changes that contribute to more student success. For example, many states, including Oregon, have found that shifting to measures of student growth over time has been more helpful for school improvement planning than focusing only on individual grade level results. Finding the right indicators can help institutions of higher education reflect on their practices, and seek out ways to improve the student experience and preparation for the world of work. And therein lies the challenge. What are the right outcome indicators for higher education?

Your thoughts are most welcome on this.


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