ERIC Identifier: ED284510
Publication Date: 1984-00-00
Author: Marcus, Laurence R. - And Others
Association for the Study of Higher Education.| ERIC
Clearinghouse on Higher Education Washington DC.
Self-Study in Higher Education: The Path to Excellence. ERIC
As public revenues have become tighter, legislators and government executives
have called for more accountability of tax-supported organizations, including
public colleges. The necessity for proof that public funds are being expended in
a cost-effective manner, to a good end, and with a demonstrable benefit to those
being served, escaped higher education for many years; this is no longer the
case. Institutional self-study is an appropriate method for determining quality
and demonstrating accountability, which can lead to academic and administrative
WHAT IS THE TREND FOR GOVERNMENT REGULATIONS?
Regulation follows public money. Thus it is no wonder that state and federal
government regulations have reached higher education. Until recently, state and
federal oversight was limited to institutional licensure and to state-level
planning and coordination, including the approval of new degree programs.
Now, such efforts as state review of existing academic programs are becoming
more common. Even more indicative of greater government involvement is the fact
that at least 17 states have provided their higher education agency with the
responsibility and general powers to accredit institutions and programs within
WHAT ROLE DOES THE ACCREDITATION PLAY?
Government activity in academic matters is controversial. Increased quality
review activity by the states is supported by some, but opposed by college and
university leaders and accreditation groups. The federal government
traditionally has relied on accreditation as the basis for eligibility for
federal funds. States have relied on accreditation as evidence of quality for
the maintenance of a license to operate as well as for continued eligibility for
Accreditation as an indicator of quality has come under strong criticism,
partially because accrediting bodies assess an institution's quality according
to the institution's own mission and self-definition. Critics point out
--The accreditation process has become ingrown and the denial of
accreditation is virtually impossible
--The period of accreditation granted is lengthy (often 10 years) and the
secrecy surrounding the report of the review team is suspect
--Accrediting associations do not monitor or enforce standards, nor are they
willing to make public those standards that an institution does not meet
Whether accreditation continues to serve as the basis for eligibility for
public funds remains to be seen. Some states already have become more activist
in attempting to ascertain that institutions are providing a quality education.
Some observers think the greatest safeguard against an increased state role is
for colleges themselves to strengthen their own evaluation activities.
HOW CAN INSTITUTIONS ASSURE QUALITY CONTROL?
Assessment of the quality of educational programs is difficult because
quality "is an elusive concept" (Scott 1981). Nevertheless, a comprehensive,
systematic appraisal effort can assist the faculty and the institution's
leadership in making judgments regarding academic strength. A focus both on the
program's process and outcome is needed.
The evaluation needs (1) to be comprehensive and (2) to have broad
participation. Chaired by a person of recognized stature, a review committee
should include senior and junior program faculty, academic administrators, and
faculty from other departments. A subcommittee of program faculty should prepare
a self-study to serve as the foundation for the program review.
WHAT IS NEEDED IN A SELF STUDY?
At a minimum, the self-study should include:
--The goals of the program (within the context of the broader institutional
--The program's organization--internal processes and personnel practices
--Available fiscal resources and facilities-- laboratories and library
--The curriculum--course sequencing, comparison to professional standards,
and relevance to student goals
--The faculty--demographic data, workload requirements, specializations, and
--The students--entry and exit characteristics, class sizes, graduation
rates, and placement
--Current issues--perceived weaknesses and future plans
Appropriate quantitative data should be included:
--Number of graduates --Attrition rates --Enrollments --Student demand trends
--Volumes in the library --Faculty publications --Test scores --Success of
graduates --Course costs --Cost-effectiveness data
However, an over-reliance on numerical factors--such as average cost per
credit hour or per graduate-- should be discouraged. The assessment of program
goals, student learning, faculty performance, and curriculum must have a
qualitative bent. For example, an examination of faculty quality should move
beyond background characteristics and workload statistics to focus on such
factors as the quality of teaching, ability to retain students, professional
activities, research and publication, and the vitality of the department.
IS OUTSIDE GUIDANCE USEFUL?
Once completed, the self-study should be reviewed by an impartial, external
consultant selected for his/her professional standing and knowledge about the
issues and trends in the particular field of study. The consultant should also
visit the campus to discuss the issues with program and other faculty, students,
and administrators. The result should be a report that comments on whether the
stated goals and accomplishments make sense. Most important is the consultant's
judgment regarding the candor of the self-study, the program's ability to be
self-critical, and its willingness to act upon identified weaknesses.
Institutions should circulate broadly the consultant's report or candid summary
of it. The University of Chicago's practice (Miller 1979) can serve as a model.
HOW CAN INSTITUTIONAL COMMITMENT BE DEMONSTRATED?
Comprehensive, forthright, decision-oriented program evaluations, made
public, are the best way for an institution to demonstrate that:
--It is concerned about quality
--Its efforts are worthy of continued public funding
--It does not need the on-campus presence of state evaluators in order to be
accountable and responsive to public concerns
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Barak, Robert J., and Robert O. Berdahl. STATE-LEVEL ACADEMIC PROGRAM REVIEW
IN HIGHER EDUCATION. Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States, 1978. ED
Berdahl, Robert O. "Legislative Program Evaluation." In INCREASING THE PUBLIC
ACCOUNTABILITY OF HIGHER EDUCATION, edited by John K. Folger. NEW DIRECTIONS FOR
INSTITUTIONAL RESEARCH, No. 16. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1977.
Bogue, E. Grady. "State Agency Approaches to Academic Program Evaluation." In
ACADEMIC PROGRAM EVALUATION, edited by Eugene C. Craven. NEW DIRECTIONS FOR
INSTITUTIONAL RESEARCH, No. 27. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass, 1980.
Education Commission of the States. ACCOUNTABILITY AND ACADEME: A REPORT OF
THE NATIONAL TASK FORCE ON THE ACCOUNTABILITY OF HIGHER EDUCATION TO THE STATE.
Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States, 1979.
Harcleroad, Fred F. ACCREDITATION: HISTORY, PROCESS AND PROBLEMS.
AAHE-ERIC/Higher Education Research Report No. 6, Washington, D.C.: American
Association for Higher Education, 1980. ED 198 774.
Kuh, George D. INDICES OF QUALITY IN THE UNDERGRADUATE EXPERIENCE.
AAHE-ERIC/Higher Education Research Report No. 4, Washington D.C.: American
Association for Higher Education, 1981. ED 213 340.
Miller, Richard I. THE ASSESSMENT OF COLLEGE PERFORMANCE. San Francisco, CA:
Scott, Robert A. "Program Review's Missing Number: A Consideration of Quality
and Its Assessment." A Position paper. 1981. ED 200 108.
Trivett, David A. ACCREDITATION AND INSTITUTIONAL ELIGIBILITY.
AAHE-ERIC/Higher Education Research Report No. 9. Washington, D.C.: American
Association for Higher Education, 1976. ED 132 919.
Troutt, William E. "Relationships Between Regional Accrediting Standards and
Educational Quality." In INSTITUTIONAL ASSESSMENT FOR SELF-IMPROVEMENT, edited
by Richard I. Miller. NEW DIRECTIONS FOR INSTITUTIONAL RESEARCH, No. 29. San
Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1981.