I recently had the opportunity to hear a presentation by Diane Auer Jones, the former Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education in the U.S. Department of Education, on the importance of accountability in higher education. This presentation was incredibly eye-opening to me on many levels, and has encouraged me to more deeply consider how assessment can improve the student experience at professional colleges and universities.
A Single Definition
A primary goal of Jones’ presentation was to advocate for a “single definition” in education through a rethinking of accountability and student success across institution types. Early in the presentation, Jones argued that while a distinction is often made between so-called traditional schools and career or vocational institutions, in reality program offerings at these institutions are increasingly similar to one another. For example, proprietary schools are offering an increasing number of degree programs, including advanced degree programs while at the same time, the majority of graduates from traditional, comprehensive universities are earning degrees in vocational fields like nursing, education and business.
In addition, when outcomes are assessed for all students, and not just the shrinking minority of traditional, “first-time-full-time” students, we see a similar convergence in outcomes among demographically-matched students regardless of where they attend college (including at a number of selective institutions). As highlighted by the report, Time is the Enemy¸ when part-time students are included in the statistics, public institutions that boast of graduation rates as high as 60 percent among their first-time-full-time students show far more sobering results. While the relative proportion of traditional versus non-traditional students might determine the overall graduation rate at a given institution, these averages may in no way represent the likely outcome for an individual student.