Academic journal article
By Silverman, Gary S.; Silverman, Marian K.
Journal of Environmental Health , Vol. 65, No. 7
Assessment, outcomes, and accountability are words that may strike terror (or at least annoyance) into the hearts of professionals. Most professions have, however, accepted the importance of measuring outcomes, and environmental health cannot be an exception. The practice of environmental health is extremely diverse, and it requires a large variety of knowledge and skills. Determining the best course of study to prepare students to enter the profession is controversial and difficult. For the past 25 years, the National Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council (EHAC) has attempted to determine the most appropriate course of study and has implemented guidelines for accrediting undergraduate programs in environmental health. The guidelines need to be evaluated regularly to ensure that they result in the desired educational outcomes. This paper reports the results of an evaluation of the EHAC accreditation guidelines as measured through a survey administered to program graduates and to th e graduates' supervisors. The authors also report on the graduates' perceptions about the value of their education and on the level of their satisfaction in working as environmental health professionals.
The findings should be useful to several communities. Individual academic programs can use the data to self-evaluate the quality of their graduates relative to the entire environmental health community. The broader environmental health community can use the results to help determine the utility of the accreditation process and evaluate the preparation of program graduates for contributing to the profession. Moreover, reviewing the results will provide the environmental health community an opportunity to interact with the academic programs striving to prepare tomorrow's workforce.
Academic environmental health programs seeking EHAC accreditation must follow the process and meet the requirements identified in Guidelines for the Accreditation of Environmental Health Science & Protection Baccalaureate Programs (EHAC, 2002). The Guidelines specify that accredited programs should promote critical thinking and development of professional skills and technical knowledge, and provide the tools for lifelong learning. Key competencies are specified to reflect technical competence and professional values. These competencies were identified and articulated by environmental health practitioners and academics on the basis of a variety of resources dating back to seminal work sponsored by the Kellogg Foundation (Hopper, 1951) and NEHA (1962, 1964). Specific objectives include the provision of course work in the basic sciences, communication, mathematics, and general education.
An outcome-assessments survey was developed in 1997 to measure performance of graduates with respect to the EHAC Guidelines. From 1997 to 2001, graduates of 10 accredited environmental health programs were mailed surveys and were asked to complete them and to have their supervisors complete them. By asking the graduates and their supervisors to respond independently to the same survey questions, the authors were able to determine the level of convergent validity Surveys were anonymous, using a coding system that linked graduates' responses with their supervisors' responses without revealing individual identities. Consequently, the results for graduates with supervisory ratings had two data sources.
The surveys contained a behaviorally anchored rating scale based on 16 key competency areas specified in the Guidelines. Behaviorally anchored rating scales were used because they have the advantage of describing each level of competence to each respondent and have been found to be highly reliable. For example, competency in technical skills was assessed according to the rating criteria given in Table 1. Each competency area had specific behavioral anchors that described the full range of possible professional behaviors on a scale of 1 to 5. …