Accreditation, Quality and Your Institution

Chet(1)By Dr. Chet Haskell Partner of Edu Alliance Group, Inc. and a member of the Board of Directors. Dr. Haskell has served as President of the Monterey Institute of International Affairs, and Cogswell Polytechnical College. He is an expert in the field of regional and international accreditation.

If you are a leader of a regionally accredited higher education institution, worries about maintaining accreditation is not at the top of the list of things keeping you awake at night.

American college and university leaders are well acquainted with accreditation. Institutional accreditation is the necessary precondition for access to essential student aid and research funding. Programmatic or specialized accreditation has been achieved by many of your academic programs. Some of your faculty members and senior administrators and, occasionally, you yourselves participate in the processes of accreditation, serving on review teams or on accreditation commissions. The routines and reports that are necessary when an institution or a program is reviewed are familiar. Accreditation is a fact of life for you and your institution, as it is with most of American academe.

But are there aspects of accreditation that should concern you? I can suggest a couple.

First, the accreditation game may change. The regulations of the Department of Education are in the hands of a new administration with views that contrast with those of the previous administration. The PROSPER initiative of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce would change many rules and incentives that affect institutions and their accrediting bodies. More importantly, the Congress is inching its way to a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. While accreditation reform is not a major theme in the current discussions, various proposals have been put forward that would have an impact. The decoupling of Title IV financial aid from accreditation is the most radical of these, but others such as allowing regional accreditors to compete or mandating new oversight would alter accreditation in significant ways. And because there are a number of imposed mandates on accreditors, they are in many ways de facto agents of the U.S. government. The present debates may influence any or all of these factors. You can be sure that all the accrediting organizations, both institutional and programmatic, are paying close attention to these proposals.

Second, the accreditors themselves are seeking change. Among the initiatives discussed at the recent CHEA meeting were:

  1. Greater emphasis on mission appropriate measures of student success
  2. More efforts designed to inform the public about accreditation, its purposes and processes
  3. More attention to the roles and responsibilities of institutional trustees
  4. New international partnerships
  5. An increased focus on competency based education
  6. Better recognition of the diversity of student demographics and the role of lifelong learning. These and similar steps will influence institutions in numerous ways.

Third, the stakeholders of your institution understanding of accreditation as it relates to academic quality. Accreditation’s credibility and value may be at risk and thus your institution also may be at risk. Indeed, it can be argued, as reflected in recent polls, that more and more Americans not only do not understand higher education, but also doubt its worth.

This is perilous territory for higher education in general and individual institutions in particular. Such sentiments feed potential Congressional and Federal actions that would damage higher education. Furthermore, every higher education institution is dependent on the support of a wider community of students, parents, alumni, donors and local businesses and governments. Institutions are on unsteady ground if these actors question the very value of your institution.

What this really comes down to is the meaning of quality in higher education. Accreditation is one piece of the quality discussion, but it is not well understood that institutional accreditation is just a threshold, establishing minimum standards and playing a sort of minimalist consumer protection role. This approach is the only way to accommodate the diversity of institutional missions and approaches that characterizes American higher education and gives it much of its energy and creativity. Threshold accreditation is not about excellence or quality improvement.

There is no accepted definition of objective quality for institutions. Even the smallest institutions are too complex for simple definitions of quality. Yet the stakeholders, including the public and governments, are often seeking clear indicators of the expected return on their investments. This creates a vacuum into which the various ranking systems have entered, meeting a broad demand for simple statements of relative quality and reputation.

Only institutions can be responsibility for assuring and improving quality. The best American institutions demonstrate this, despite hardly needing accreditation. The top research universities are accredited only because of the desire to access Federal Title IV and research funding. Yet, they constantly seek excellence in an extremely rigorous and competitive environment. Crucial to their success are internal traditions and processes of accountability and a shared culture of academic freedom, faculty based shared governance, meritocratic selection of students and faculty members and similar characteristics. Accreditation does not force them to do this. They would operate the same way even if accreditation did not exist.

So your institution’s internal mechanisms and processes for addressing questions of quality are critical. This is particularly true because not all goals are convertible to metrics. Making measures of outcomes like employment as a standard is not only misleading, but according to longtime Bard College president, Leon Botstein, “dangerous.” Rigorous and continual internal accountability for defining and assessing quality is one of the most important responsibilities of any institution.

Part of internal quality accountability is being open to the rest of the world, since knowledge is a global commodity. How does your institution define benchmarks and select benchmarking targets? How can you assure you are avoiding the provincialism common to higher education institutions? How can you be certain you are educating students not only for their personal success, but also to fight for the principles of higher education and to confront the anti-intellectualism too common in our country? How do you make sure your students are educated for local engagement and also for life in interconnected national and international environments?

Isolationism is a dead end. Despite current national policies (and the fact that fewer than 40% of American adults even own a passport), successful institutions of the future will be those driven to improve quality for their own purposes and to do so in line with their missions, both local and international. At the same time, success will also depend on the capacity to explain all this to often-skeptical parents, students, donors and governments. Transparency matters, but accessibility that assures understanding matters even more.

Thus, something that should keep you up at night is guaranteeing your institution’s constant concentration on defining, assuring and improving educational quality in your own terms. The accreditation processes should be merely a validation of your own commitment to quality. Faculty and staff members, boards of trustees, alumni and donors and, most important of all, students and parents, need to understand the value of what is being offered and accomplished in your institution.

Of course, academic leaders need to pay attention to changes in the policy and accreditation contexts. However, at the end of the day they should worry most about the quality of their own institutions and programs. Crafting and succoring a culture of quality appropriate to one’s own institution is fundamental. Assuring and improving quality in all aspects of an institution and its programs is essential. After all, there is no market for being mediocre. Rather, the value of academic quality will only increase in a competitive global environment. Accreditation may change in many ways, but you can cope with that. But accreditation is not central to high quality. Only you and your institution are.

cropped-edu-alliance-logo-square1.jpgEdu Alliance is a higher education consultancy firm with offices in the United States and the United Arab Emirates. The founders and its advisory members have assisted higher education institutions on a variety of projects, and many have held senior positions in higher education in the United States and internationally.

Our specific mission is to assist universities, colleges and educational institutions to develop capacity and enhance their effectiveness.

5 Creative Ways Educational Technology Can Meet Challenges Head On

MarciPowell2By Marci Powell President of her own educational consulting company, Marci Powell and Associates and a member of the Edu Alliance Advisory Council..

Even with an upper management level position at a global company, my daughter-in-law only recently paid off her student debt. In her early thirties, she was still dealing with excessive student loan payments that significantly strained their finances. It took using the equity in the home she and my son sold to do it.

She is not alone. Many graduates are in the same predicament. But what can institutions of higher learning do given declining funding and enrollment?

Equally concerning, many businesses complain that universities are not sending them workers who are truly prepared for today’s workplace.

Potential students hear these horror stories and, as a result, are opting for less expensive and more creative ways to get an education.

Competition has never been more intense among institutions of higher learning whether public or private, large or small, as each tries to stand out in a crowded market.

In a survey done several months ago by Times Higher Education World University Rankings, an international group of over 60,000 students stated the top 3 reasons they pick a university is because of highly qualified teaching staff, high graduation employment rates, and up-to-date technology and online learning options.

Over the course of the last few weeks, you’ve been introduced to several challenges facing higher education including financial constraints, declining enrollments, and inadequate outcomes.

In today’s blog we will focus on 5 creative ways you can leverage educational technology (EdTech) to meet challenges head-on. Let’s look at a few good examples of how some institutions Use EdTech to:

  • Attract new students and meet their expectations
  • Prepare students for workplace of the future
  • Engage students by transforming teaching and learning
  • Increase persistence, retention and graduation rates
  • Offer innovative and enticing alternatives

There is no doubt everyone reading this blog already employs educational technology on some level at his or her institution. Of course, it isn’t about the technology but how we apply it to solve challenges and reap great benefits.

A $10 million U.S. Department of Education grant in the 90s led me to supporting Texas institutions in the integration of educational technology. Since then, I’ve spent the last 20 years of my career guiding fellow educators in digital and online learning.

My most recent work with Dr. Susan Aldridge, President of Drexel University Online, has focused on uncovering innovative best practices from around the world. I’ve included a few examples from this recent research.

1. Use EdTech to meet student demands and attract new students

 Progressive use of educational technology attracts students. They expect technology-enhanced education. They want tools that empower them to connect and collaborate in a way that is immediate, efficient, and interactive.

Oral Robert University, a private comprehensive liberal arts university with 4,000 students, has received significant recognition lately for innovative EdTech usage. Streamlining workflows and enhancing learning, they are attracting highly qualified teaching staff, and providing up-to-date technology and online learning options.

From using EdTech to enable faculty to manage their gradebook through a Fitbit wearable device to integrating over 30 disparate systems into one seamless system, ORU lightens workloads.

Image 1 for PowellFurthermore, teachers can develop high tech, augmented or virtual reality lesson plans in a matter of minutes.

Using a mobile device, students abroad, including Africa, can experience lessons built in AR or VR.


2. Use EdTech to prepare students for the workplace of the future

One of the best ways to prepare students for future careers is to provide opportunities for them to put theory into practice.

Image 2 for PowellConsider partnerships like Texas A&M University and Triseum, a company near the campus. Students and faculty conduct extensive research in game development. The ideas become a product, which is either sold or licensed. Revenue is shared among the company, university, and students who work on the project.

Two examples are games used to teach calculus concepts and art history.

This partnership provides world-class digital experiences to prepare students for great careers.

3. Use EdTech to engage students by transforming teaching & learning

Hong Kong Baptist University has created custom-made downloadable applications and new integrated pedagogies, such as augmented reality, to better engage students. These apps teach everything from English for native Chinese speakers to principles of economics to analytical chemistry.

Using proven cognitive techniques, two Johns Hopkins University students built Osmosis, a study tool for today’s medical students. It analyzes the students’ course materials and schedules, then generates recommendations and quizzes to prepare them for clinical practice, board exams and tests. It is now used by over 300 medical schools worldwide.

4. Use EdTech to increase persistence, retention and graduation rates

Sometimes students struggle with simply enrolling. Other times, certain courses delay or prevent them from finishing their degree.

Using Artificial Intelligence (AI) can drive persistence and graduation rates by supporting campus management and providing “smarter” services for everything from the admissions process and financial aid orientation to advising and tutoring.

It can deliver encouragement, reminders, and prompt assistance to help students stay on track. Using machine learning and algorithms, “chatbots” are always available to answer frequently asked questions.

Georgia State University was able to “freeze the summer melt” using Pounce, a custom virtual assistant which guided students through the enrollment process by receiving answers to the most frequently asked questions on a 24/7 basis. Research showed a 21.4% decrease in summer melt and a 3.9% increase in enrollment.

 Deakin University of Australia implemented Watson, by IBM, to create a 24/7/365 online student advisory service to improve the student experience. The result was a 5-10% reduction in enquiries managed by staff, with over 30,000 questions answered in the first trimester freeing staff to handle more complicated matters.

Likewise, Dr. Rosie Ching, Singapore Management University, created a better way to assist struggling students in her statistics courses. CSI Agent on a Mission is a free downloadable game to engage first and second year undergrads.

5.  Use EdTech to offer innovative and enticing alternatives

 Some institutions offer innovative programs to increase enrollments. Others are finding alternative ways to meet the needs and expectations of their students with stackable credentials, competency-based education, and/or moving away from traditional degrees to non-degree certificates or certifications. EdTech can greatly support these new pathways.

The Evolllution, an online newspaper, focused on non-traditional higher education, recently sharing the latest compilation of articles on alternative and next generation credentialing.

In a recent blog by Nancy Hoke, increasing enrollment through online programs to is outlined. Two of the top three largest online programs mentioned, Arizona State University (ASU) and Colorado State University (CSU) Global Campus have quite innovative approaches.

Using EdTech capabilities through Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), ASU created a Global Freshman Academy in which students can take freshman courses risk free. Once a student successfully completes the courses, they can pay for the credit hours and move forward.

CSU-Global Campus, the first wholly online state university in the United States, facilitates adult success in a global marketplace by offering career-relevant education. Tuition is the same for all students regardless of geographic location.

Hopefully, you’re inspired by these creative ways to address challenges within your institution. I’m confident that if you will take a moment to peruse the links included in this blog, you will find even greater inspiration.

Marci Powell owns her own educational consulting company, Marci Powell and Associates Powell is an expert in the field of educational technology with extensive experience in applications related to online teaching and learning. On Virtually Inspired, a website powered by Drexel University Online, Marci showcases innovations in online learning.

She is Chair Emerita and Past President of the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA) and currently oversees global relations. Marci serves on various boards including the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE), EduAlliance, and Lamar University’s Center for Research in Educational Innovation and Digital Learning.

Throughout her career she has served as a classroom teacher and administrator, Global Director for Education at Polycom, and Director of Educational Advocacy for AT&T, among others. For her distinguished contributions to online learning, Marci has been inducted into the USDLA and TxDLA Halls of Fame and been recognized as an EDEN Fellow by the European Distance and Elearning Network (EDEN). She has previously been named Higher Ed Tech Decisions Top 10 Leaders in Higher Education.

cropped-edu-alliance-logo-square1.jpgEdu Alliance is a higher education consultancy firm with offices in the United States and the United Arab Emirates. The founders and its advisory members have assisted higher education institutions on a variety of projects, and many have held senior positions in higher education in the United States and internationally.

Our specific mission is to assist universities, colleges and educational institutions to develop capacity and enhance their effectiveness.