Call to focus on ‘student outcomes’, not lecturer qualifications, in US university accreditation

Accreditation of US universities should depend less on “input” measures, such as the number of lecturers with PhDs, and more on measures of outputs such as student loan default rates.

June 10, 2012

This is one of the recommendations of a report, College 2.0: An Entrepreneurial Approach to Reforming Higher Education, which contains a series of papers given at a conference hosted in December last year by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Contributors included higher education scholars, as well as representatives of alumni groups, several online universities, and the private for-profit provider Kaplan.

The foundation’s mission statement is to enable people to “attain economic independence by advancing educational achievement and entrepreneurial success”.

Of the 25 contributors, some members agreed on “rough outlines” of a reform agenda.

Some participants wanted to eliminate the need for accreditation of courses altogether, although there was “no consensus” on this point.

“However, there was general agreement that accreditation should focus much less on inputs, such as the requirement that professors in many courses hold PhDs, and more on outcome measures such as student performance and loan default rates,” the report says.

State and federal money should be allocated on the basis of outcomes rather than measures such as student enrolment.

“Seat time”, the requirement for students to attend classes for certain number of hours, should be scrapped.

“Indeed, online learning should be largely deregulated so long as minimum course level outcomes are specified,” the report concludes.

It recommends that before enrolling, students should be required to sign a statement confirming that they have been informed about an institution’s “costs, completion rates, graduates’ employment rates, and graduates’ salary information by major”.

The report also says that regulations “should be focused above all on helping students” rather than “protecting the interests of existing institutions”.

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