QUALITY IN THE UNDERGRADUATE EXPERIENCE
What Is It?
How Should it be Measured?
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?