As a federal panel considers ways to bring more accountability to American higher education, the two major national groups representing public colleges and universities are urging their members to devise their own systems to measure student learning.
The recommendations are outlined in separate reports put forth this month by the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, or NASULGC, which represents more than 200 large research universities, and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, or AASCU, whose membership includes more than 400 public higher education institutions. Both groups are based in Washington.
The reports come as the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, established by U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings last year, is pondering ways to increase accountability for colleges. The panel’s chairman, Charles Miller, has publicly suggested that colleges voluntarily test their students. (“U.S. Panel Weighs Accountability in Higher Education,” March 29, 2006)
Travis J. Reindl, the director of state policy analysis at AASCU, said that some in academe have considered similar accountability proposals in the past, but that the federal panel’s work “is a nudge or a prod to keep moving in that direction.”
He said an accountability system could include a combination of surveys of alumni and employer satisfaction, data reported by students about their courses and interaction with faculty members, and student testing.
Both Mr. Reindl and M. Peter McPherson, the president of NASULGC, rejected the idea of federally mandated standardized tests. NASULGC also makes that point clear in its report. Mr. McPherson said any accountability system should “remain flexible, as a government regulation would not be likely to.” Federal policymakers would probably not craft a system that recognizes the stark differences between colleges of different sizes and missions, he added.
Mr. Reindl said that increased accountability could be a tough sell for colleges, which have “been very leery of assessing student learning. … We’ve got to get over our queasiness about this,” he said.