Accountability has moved from being a contentious buzz word in higher education to a term that has tangible meaning to those that utter it. In fact, many in the higher education community have begun to embrace the term.
To whom are colleges and universities accountable?
Many in higher education reacted initially to the Spellings Report as one that required accountability to the government. Institutional leaders now realize that accountability to students, parents, and the larger college or university community is what was really meant.
It is hard to argue that you should not be held accountable to those that ‘buy your product’ and fund your operations. Once this realization was made, institutions began to take action.
That is why you see the rise of so many higher education accountability programs today. Where once there was the Department of Education’s College Navigator service (formerly known as COOL) as the only place to find verified outcome data for colleges and universities, there are now a slew of new programs promising even more accountability data. Such programs include:
- College Portrait – Voluntary System of Accountability sponsored by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU)
- U-CAN – University and College Accountability Network sponsored by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities
While the above programs aim to help institution constituents learn objectively about the institution and the success measures they use, there are other accountability programs that are forming to help institutions gain a greater internal insight and help plan for improvement. Two such programs are focused on greater higher education access for minority and under-privileged socio-economic groups:
- Achieving the Dream – led by the American Association of Community Colleges
- Access to Success – recently announced by the National Association of System Heads (NASH) and The Education Trust
These two initiatives begin to exhibit real promise toward institutions realizing the real purpose of accountability. After all, one must internalize the fact that they are accountable to others and identify steps to show greater effectiveness. It is not simply about measuring and reporting. It’s about change. Change based upon information that helps bring visibility to the institution’s ability to fulfill it’s mission. That is the ultimate benefit of accountability.