Holding Higher Education Accountable

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A recently published article featured on EducationDIVE explores concerns regarding accreditation of post-secondary institutions in the United States. Specifically, it addresses how graduation rates are being used to inform decisions surrounding institutional accountability and allocation of financial assistance. The question of whether or not these rates are sufficient, or even valid, has led to ongoing tension between college accreditors, the U.S. Department of Education, and post-secondary institution.

Playing the Blame Game

The Department of Education is calling on accreditors to raise the standard and take action when necessary. They are putting their foot down, so to speak, with the release of the Accreditation Reform and Enhanced Accountability Act of 2016 (AREAA). This legislation is meant to hold accreditors accountable for protecting the interests of both students and taxpayers, while also maintaining the integrity of post-secondary education. In response, accreditors are saying “Show us the data!” Accurate data, that is, surrounding institutional graduation rates. Recent disparities between these statistics from one publication to another have provoked some degree of concern among post-secondary students and the institutions they attend. As accreditors attempt to pinpoint which schools qualify for intensive review, with graduation rates falling below nationally recognized thresholds, they want to have their facts straight. Meanwhile, post-secondary institutions are jumping into the discussion to say “Great! Hold us accountable for serving the needs of our students, but make sure you consider our unique circumstances and access to resources when doing so”.

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Needless to say, all parties want accountability, and they want it now! However, as the article concludes, cohesion is a necessity in the provision of an education that is financially accessible, contextually attainable, and subsequently applicable to the workforce. Of course, this collective effort among and within all levels of decision-making is only one piece of the very large puzzle of student success.


Context is highlighted as a pertinent issue when collecting data on institutional accountability, particularly as student populations represent a vast range of social and cultural backgrounds, demonstrating a variety of unique circumstances. Although post-graduate earnings, together with graduation, retention, and employment rates offer some valuable insight into accountability at the institutional level and beyond, there are a number of other factors to consider. It is important to look beyond hard numbers in an attempt to better understand the experiences that shape a student’s post-secondary career. Whether or not a student sees an academic program through to completion doesn’t satisfy the questions of why they weren’t able to graduate or what could have been done to better support and engage them.

Behold, the Power of Data Analytics

Mobile technology has provided students with the autonomy to become active and engaged citizens within their campus communities and individual learning pathways. These technologies also have the potential to shed a light on student behaviors, needs, and preferences in order to assist administrators, educators, and decision-makers in their collective mission to support student success. The ability to quantify student usage of campus resources and services allows post-secondary institutions to more effectively improve existing campus offerings and implement innovative approaches to student engagement and support. Data truly is a beautiful thing.



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