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Quality in Undergraduate Education

WorkSHOP Information

A committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Board on Higher Education and Workforce convened a workshop on December 14–15, 2015 to engage researchers, educators, industry leaders, and others on the topic of “Quality in the Undergraduate Experience” More than 100 participants spent two days focused on the key issues in assessing the quality in undergraduate learning. Please find the meeting materials below:

Participant List
"Quality in the Undergraduate Experience: What is it? How should it be measured? Who decides?" Meeting in Brief
"Defining and Measuring Institutional Quality in Higher Education" by Jordan Matsudaira
"Quality in the Undergraduate Experience" Committee Discussion Document

Project Scope

BHEW will hold a national workshop of thought leaders and interested stakeholders that focuses on understanding, defining and measuring quality in the undergraduate experience. The goals of this workshop are:

  1. To engage scholars and researchers—as well as leaders from higher education, business, civic organizations and government—in intensive and focused discussions of quality in the undergraduate educational experience, including at community colleges, four-year colleges, and degree certification programs.
  2. To begin to understand how to define and measure those factors that contribute to a quality educational experience that are difficult to quantify but that may represent the core elements of a successful undergraduate experience for most students.
  3. To identify key questions and research themes that need further study regarding the definition, measurement and determination of a quality postsecondary education.
  4. To publish a report of the proceedings that can stimulate further dialogue among education leaders and policy makers on the topic of quality, which can in turn influence both institutional policy and practice and public policies at the federal and state levels.

Meetings & Events




What Is It?

How Should it be Measured?

Who Decides?

December 14 - 15, 2015 

A Workshop Hosted by the

Board on Higher Education and Workforce of the

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine


This workshop is intended for college and university faculty and administrators; state and federal agency officials, legislators and staff; accreditors; policy organizations; business leaders and industry associations; students; and other stakeholders interested in understanding, defining and measuring educational quality in the range of undergraduate institutions across the United States. 

  Sponsored by the Lumina Foundation


Key Issues to be addressed at the workshop:

1.   Measures of Student Learning.  Much of the focus on “quality” in undergraduate education has been on input factors or course outcome measures: reputation, entrance examination scores and admissions selectivity, financial resources, graduation rates, graduates’ employment and earnings, and other attributes that can easily be measured but that say little about student learning--that is, the acquisition of important and relevant knowledge, skills and competencies and the ability to apply those KSCs in real-world settings.  How can we change that?  Are there measures of quality that can truly speak to student learning?  How do new, non-traditional postsecondary course experiences such as digital competency-based learning, problem-focused field experiences such as internships, and other programs change the ways we understand, define and measure quality? 

2.   Qualitative Factors.  “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” – attributed to Albert Einstein.  How do we begin to define, identify and measure the qualitative elements of a high-quality undergraduate education?  What are those elements, who decides what they are and how they are measured, and how does context matter?  What voice should students, faculty and administrators, accreditors, employers, civic leaders and government officials have in determining those elements?

3.   Assessment.  In a system strongly guided by norms of professional judgment, peer review, and evidentiary support, quality is closely linked to processes of diagnosis and improvement. For an institution to be judged high quality, should criteria include the presence of a rigorous program of outcomes assessments and continuous improvements? What should such a program look like, and who should judge its adequacy?

4.   Understanding Quality from a Federal Policy Perspective.  For understandable reasons, federal policymakers who care about quality focus the agenda on issues and matters that can be measured, e.g. completion rates of Pell recipients, employment and starting salaries of graduates, etc.  This is important but insufficient and can have perverse consequences.  The workshop will encourage participants to think about the policy relevance and consequentiality of different approaches to assessing quality.

5.   Does quality vary by institution type and student goals?  Is a high-quality undergraduate education different for an 18-year old student entering a 4-year bachelor’s degree program than for a 40-year-old adult enrolling in a community college to earn a vocational or technical certificate?  What about those “attending” online?  Are there some common metrics that can be used across institution types, and others that should be specific to each type?   Does the meaning of quality depend on what students “hire” colleges and universities to do for them? 



A workshop summary report will be issued at the end of the project.

Committee Members


Paul Courant
Arthur F. Thurnau Professor,
Harold T. Shapiro Collegiate Professor of Public Policy,
Professor of Economics,
Professor of Information, and
Faculty Associate in the Institute for Social Research
University of Michigan


Ellen Hazelkorn
Policy Advisor to the Higher Education Authority, and
Director, Higher Education Policy Research Unit (HEPRU)
Dublin Institute of Technology

Paul J. LeBlanc
Southern New Hampshire University

Alexander McCormick
Associate Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies
Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research

Marco Molinaro
Assistant Vice Provost for Educational Effectiveness,
University of California at Davis

Indira Nair
Former Vice Provost of Education and
Professor, Engineering and Public Policy
Carnegie Mellon University

Roy Swift
Executive Director
Workcred, an affiliate of the American National Standards Institute


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