As a member of the professional college and university community, one topic that has been of great interest to me as of late is the future of student assessment.  Considering that many students at proprietary institutions come from non-traditional backgrounds, should these students be assessed differently than their more traditional counterparts? What can the education community do to improve academics across the board while finding accurate measures for student achievement at career colleges?

The Higher Education Capacity Gap

During last month’s PCUS gathering, higher education attorney David Harpool put this concept of student assessment into the context of the “megatrends” seen in higher ed today.  Harpool began by highlighting the education capacity gap in the United States, which continues to grow as demand for education increases while admission rates at traditional universities remain static.

Harpool believes that this educational capacity gap could be filled by online education programs and for-profit institutions.  Traditional colleges alone will probably be unable to meet the increasing demand for higher education (even with increasing adoption of online learning) due to increased competitiveness at those schools.  As a result, the gap presents an opportunity for professional colleges and universities: since they have proven success in educating non-traditional and underprepared students, for-profit schools can meet education demands among non-traditional student populations—even if traditional universities do not have the capacity to do so.

The Future of Student Assessment

If Harpool is correct and for-profit institutions meet the education capacity gap in the future, it will be critical that these schools define and quantify what success means for their students. Colleges and universities are assessed, accredited, and funded based on various measures of student achievement, so for-profits must have means to accurately measure and report this data if they are to survive and thrive in the future. Harpool and others would argue, however, that traditional definitions of student “success” may not always be accurate for career college students.  For example, if a student is underprepared when he enters a professional university and balances full-time work while pursuing his education, is it fair to compare his achievements to those of a more traditional university student?

In other words, there may be a need to redefine “success” so that it can include the great strides career college students can make during the course of their education. This is an important point for all members of the for-profit education sector, as perceptions on what “success” means for institutions can greatly impact the role they play in our country’s higher education future.  As Harpool states in the video below:

“To level the playing field, I think analysis will show that for-profits are successful at educating.  But without that analysis, there’s a disproportionate and despaired picture of [for-profits] which I don’t think is accurate.”

You can view our recent interview of David Harpool by clicking here or watching the video below.  For more information on helping non-traditional students find academic success, you may also be interested in learning about Blackboard’s Developmental Education (DevEd) solutions here.

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