Assessment in Higher Education: Issues of Access, Quality, Student Development, and Public Policy

By Samuel J. Messick | Go to book overview

PART IV
POLITICS AND PUBLIC POLICY OF HIGHER EDUCATION ASSESSMENT

Assessment of the quality of higher education has been a long-time concern within the academy as part of a curricular and pedagogical reform movement to improve undergraduate education. Because the need for reform was generally perceived as being deep-rooted and widespread, the issue of quality gradually escalated from the level of concern for local improvement to the national level of policy debate. As the context broadened beyond the local institution, higher education quality quickly became embroiled in the politics of accountability. Federal and state officials saw assessment of quality as a lever for elevating higher education accountability in times of constrained economic resources, but also as a means of channeling the academy's responsiveness to societal needs.

Once in the political arena, there was enormous pressure for the assessment of quality to become more focussed with respect to the desired outcomes of higher education that are addressed. There also needed to be some resolution of debates about value perspectives as to what constitutes excellence in higher education. For example, is excellence embodied in high quality resources (including the quality of faculty and students) or in institutional reputation or in successful talent development? Alternatively, we need some way of dealing with the pros and cons of endorsing diverse views of excellence. These considerations as to what outcomes of higher education to assess in terms of what criterion of excellence have profound implications not only for the content of quality assessment but also for the appropriate mode or form of assessment. The implications of these issues of politics and policy for higher education assessment are the topics of Part IV.

In Chapter 12, Peter Ewell traces the confluence of political and economic forces that have brought higher education to judgment in terms of a "new accountability," namely, accountability in terms of return on investment to society as a whole. As a consequence, higher education has become a much more public enterprise, with employers and the general citizenry demanding a voice in what the outcomes of higher education ought to be.

Ewell then focusses on some of these public views of desired outcomes, which turn out to be highly similar to the goals of liberal or general education from the time of Cardinal Newman to present-day college catalogues, attributes

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