Academic journal article Community College Review

The Community College Accountability Network: Understanding Institutional Accountability at Aspen Grove Community College

Academic journal article Community College Review

The Community College Accountability Network: Understanding Institutional Accountability at Aspen Grove Community College

Article excerpt


This article reports on a qualitative, interpretive case study examining how trustees, administrators, faculty members, and staff members at a rural community college understand their institution's accountability environment. Data analysis and interpretation established that participants conceptualized institutional accountability as dialogic, involving ongoing communication with state authorities, employers, students, high schools, and universities about the formal and informal expectations assigned to the college. In addition, participants' understandings of accountability were shaped by their specific roles and responsibilities within the institution. The study's findings suggest the need for further research on how local institutional contexts influence institutional responses to accountability expectations.


accountability, administrator attitudes, administrator role, college--school cooperation, community relationships, education--work relationship, state agencies, social networks, transfer programs


A growing literature has examined the issues surrounding institutional accountability in higher education. Burke's (2005a) volume on accountability in American higher education is a notable example of this work. Among the essays in this volume is Burke's (2005b) discussion of six models used to explain accountability policies and programs. Each model identifies a group or community that dominates the framing and interpretation of accountability demands. For example, under the bureaucratic model, state and institutional bureaucrats dominate the definition and description of accountability; under the entrepreneurial model, powerful industry groups determine how institutional accountability is framed and interpreted; and under the professional model, faculty members control how institutional accountability is explained. Burke observed that discussions of institutional accountability assume one or more of these models, although typically they are not identified. He maintained that competing theoretical models provide interesting perspectives on the accountability movement and that this helps develop an academic or theoretical understanding of accountability policy. However, he argued that these differing perspectives may hamper the development of policy because they do not reconcile fundamental disputes about what accountability means. Consequently, Burke advocated for an understanding of accountability that acknowledges and integrates these models, giving appropriate respect for the accountability expectations of the state, the market, and the academy.

Burke's volume followed a series of annual reports that presented findings from surveys of state higher education finance officers (e.g., Burke & Minassians, 2002, 2003; Burke & Modarresi, 1999). These surveys defined specific accountability programs (i.e., performance reporting, performance budgeting, and performance funding) and then asked these senior bureaucrats to classify their state's initiatives and provide information on the public authority mandating the program, the effect of the program, and the likelihood of its continuation.

Burke's conceptual and empirical work has added new and important insights to scholarship on institutional accountability. However, neither Burke nor others working in this area have focused on a specific institution to learn how its leaders, faculty, and staff understand and interpret their institution's accountability environment. In short, we have yet to learn how institutional accountability is understood and interpreted as a part of the local knowledge and practice at a single institution (Geertz, 1973).

In this article, we report on a qualitative case study that addressed this deficiency in the literature. To carry out this inquiry, we identified a public community college in the rural Rocky Mountain West and visited the institution on three occasions over a 3-year period to collect relevant documents and conduct 15 in-depth interviews. …

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