Friday, November 09, 2012

Conference Notes LAC 2012: Plenary I (Eaton Keynote)

Plenary I: Keynote.
Date: October 29, 2012, 10:45am
Speaker: Judith Eaton, President, Council for Higher Education Accreditation
Topic: "Higher Education in a New Era of Public Accountability: What Does This Mean For You?"

(As before, any personal impressions or additions I will put in parenthesis. Otherwise, these are my notes as I heard them)

  • Some numbers: 
    • There have been 200 new regulations since 2008 affecting accreditation and institutions. 
    • 1 trillion dollars in student loan debt. 
    • We are still awaiting the Higher Education Act reauthorization. 
  • Some basics: 
    • Dominant role of the government. 
    • The compliance role for accreditation. 
    •  A shift in who decides quality: from higher education to the government. 
    • Diminished reliance on institutional leadership for academic quality. 
    • Assuring quality in innovation: for-profits, MOOCs. We'll be tested on how these work.  
  • Recall the Spellings Commission (Wikipedia article; archived homepage of the commission including reports and other materials): ongoing criticism of higher education in terms of credibility, rigor, integrity. 
    • Higher education challenged: costs up, perceived value down.
  • Expectations: 
    • Accountability for evidence: student learning outcomes and institutional performance. 
    • Accountability for transparency. 
    • Accountability for jobs and earnings. 
    • New accountability tools and sources of judgment: rankings, placement rates, graduation rates, comparability, foundations, the press. 
    • Note that the comparisons, so on are not done by us in higher education. They are done by think tanks, foundations, so on (hmm, like the CHEA maybe?) so on. Foundations such as the Gates Foundation, by their donations, can help set policies (for good or ill, we have private foundations, which may or not really have the best interests of education at heart, so on putting in money, which thus helps set policies). 
  • New era: Government and accreditation: 
    • Partnership giving way to oversight. This is another shift. 
    • Accountability only if you have regulation. 
    • Everything is worth regulating, even to low details such as faculty having a biographical statement on a college website (I have actually seen this be a big deal in other places), general education offerings, so on. The speaker went on to question if any of this makes sense. 
    • Government officials decide, not collegial/peer review. 
    •  The drive for compliance drives out the improvement role of accreditation. 
  • Why the concerns and the new era? 
    • Money. $460 billion dollars higher education enterprise. 
    • Price up and perceived value of higher education down. 
    • Absence of jobs. Sure, there was a recession, but there is still an expectation of higher education contributing to economic development (which is somewhat true, but then again, are we basically saying all higher education is simply vocational education? It seems a lot of people would think so). 
    • The presence of debt and defaults. 
    • International competition, for instance the OECD (which the speaker right away rushes to "clarify" uses "questionable" methodologies. Sounds a bit more like the world is doing better than the U.S. in terms of education, and an American does not like it. The methodology may not be perfect, but that is the usual excuse in the U.S. when talks of why the world often does better surface. By the way, on the link, click then under topics to find the education data). 
    • Another factor may be trust, or rather a lack of it in society at this moment (I can't imagine why). 
  • What role for libraries:
    • Help institutions know more about themselves. 
      • Institutional performance. 
      • Student learning outcomes: research, data, tools. 
    • Help institutions with transparency. Provide evidence to the public. 
    • Provide leadership for accountability. 
      • Communicating ROI and value of your campus. 
      • Participate in accreditation. 
  •  Libraries have the tools and capacity in place: forums, assessment blogs, other opportunities. 
    • We must lead to preserve the role of accreditation. Keep authority for academic quality within higher education. 
  •  Summary: 
    • Be a strong advocate for value of mission, peer and collegial review of quality. 
    • Be aware of the accountability climate. 
    • Sustain focus on library accountability. 

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