BUSINESS, POLITICAL & ACADEMIC PERSPECTIVES on Higher Education Accountability Policy

Article excerpt

Evidence of the emergence of accountability expectations for higher education in the United States and throughout the world is abundant; it is in national reports, conference themes, mandated assessments, accreditation guidelines, and government statues and regulations. Yet some research establishes that business, political, and academic stakeholders do not necessarily agree as to either the purpose of accountability policy or what constitutes "evidence" of accountability. This paper presents survey results from academic, business, and political officers in five states, noting significant areas of consent and dissent regarding higher education accountability policy.

EMERGENCE OF ACCOUNTABILITY POLICY IN HIGHER EDUCATION

Among the earliest markers of the call for higher education performance accountability was regional accrediting agencies' shift in the 1980s and 1990s from the use of process indicators to educational outcomes and institutional effectiveness indicators as the bases for assessment and program/service improvement (Bogue and Hall 2003). At the same time, state government became a more assertive player in higher education accountability policy, mandating assessment practices (Ewe 11, Finney and Lenth 1990) and calling for reporting on the basis of selected performance indicators (Bogue, Creech and Folger 1993, Borden and Banta 1994, Gaither, Nedweck and Neal 1994). Individual campuses, multi-campus systems, and national policy agencies added to the accountability impulse with a range of report card policies. Perhaps no accountability policy initiative has provoked as much discussion and debate as the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education's Measuring Up 2000 (reissued in 2002, 2004, 2006, and 2008).

Two reports furnish conceptual bookends to the political and professional dialogue on higher education accountability from 1972 until 2005. In Accountability in Higher Education, Kenneth Mortimer (1972) commented that "Accountability accents results - it aims squarely at what comes out of an educational system rather than what goes into it." In 2005, the National Commission on Accountability in Higher Education released Accountability for Better Results: A National Imperative for Higher Education. The Spellings Report (A Test of Leadership), released in September 2006 by the U.S. Office of Education, offered six recommendations for improvements in higher education, including a call for a shift "from a system primarily based on reputation to one based on performance... which will be more easily achieved if higher education institutions embrace and implement serious accountability measures."

In response to the challenge posed by the Spellings Report and to other calls for higher education accountability, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (formerly the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges) entered into a policy partnership. Many of the approximately 500 colleges that are members of these two organizations are creating the Voluntary System of Accountability - College Portrait, Web sites that will provide (1) institutional information for students and families (e.g., enrollment costs, degrees offered), (2) data relating to student experience and perceptions (these will derive from one of several surveys, e.g., National Survey of Student Engagement), and (3) data pertaining to student learning outcomes (these will derive from one of several instruments, e.g., College Learning Assessment) (Voluntary System of Accountability 1007).

Similarly, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities launched the University and College Accountability Network, an online venture that provides student enrollment profiles, graduating student profiles, costs of attendance, and information about campus life.1

THE RESEARCH PROBLEM

Higher education accountability literature (Lingenfelter 2003, Millett 2008, Spellings Report 2006) and at least three dissertation studies suggest differences in the academic, business, and political perspectives on accountability in higher education - including its definition, accountability policy purpose, acceptable evidence, and communication of results (Roberson-Scott 2005, Tanner 2005, Tipton-Rogers 2004). …