Accreditation Proposals Put Quality College Learning at Risk, Says AAC&U President in Strong Message to the Accrediting Community

AAC&U President Carol Geary Schneider Issues Urgent Message
to the Accrediting Community in Response to Recent Policy Proposals;
Calls for Stronger, More Coordinated Leadership and Advocacy
for the "Essential Goals of an Empowering College Education"

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Washington, DC—December 2, 2015—Carol Geary Schneider, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), sent a strong message today to the accrediting community and to policy and higher education leaders urging more forceful and concerted action to ensure and report students’ achievement of the full set of the learning outcomes most important for success and flourishing in life, work, and citizenship.  She sent this urgent message in the face of policy priorities and trends that are likely to result in perverse incentives and the prioritizing of simplistic “return-on-investment” data as the only outcome metrics that matter.

In her message sent to all the regional accrediting organizations and other policy and education leaders, Schneider notes that there is a clear consensus on the most important learning outcomes across higher education. Building on that consensus, she urges a more forceful mobilization from the higher education community itself to “make visible the kind of learning students need for twenty-first-century challenges.” She notes that “if educators’ vision and judgment are to guide quality assurance practice, the time to articulate and stand behind essential goals for an empowering college education is now.”

In her message to leaders, she describes how educators and employers alike have, in this decade, reached a clear consensus on the key components of a quality college learning experience—the components and outcomes that will lead to graduates who are equipped to contribute both to the economy and to our democracy.  She argues forcefully for a quality assurance system that places these essential learning outcomes squarely at the center of peer review processes and of data collection and reporting frameworks.

Absent more proactive leadership for high-quality learning outcomes, she predicts that, “we stand in real danger of creating a new regime that assesses quality only in terms of specific majors’ job placement rates, salaries, loan payment status, and other narrowly focused ROI data.” 

“The things that matter most in high-quality college learning—broad learning across multiple disciplines, cross-cutting capacities such as analytic inquiry or ethical reasoning, and students’ demonstrated ability to apply knowledge to complex questions—could disappear entirely not just from quality assurance attention, but from the higher education experience,” said AAC&U President Carol Geary Schneider.  “We must not let that happen.”

See the full message sent on December 2, 2015, as well as earlier comments by President Schneider provided to the US Senate HELP Committee in response to Senator Lamar Alexander’s call for feedback.