More Visible and Collective Attention to Essential Learning Outcomes by Regional Accreditors

aacu-logoIn a statement submitted to the Senate HELP Committee in response to its call for comments, AAC&U President Carol Geary Schneider urged members of the committee as it considers possible changes to accreditation to “prioritize first and foremost the goal of ensuring that all college students participate in high-quality programs that are well-designed to advance a set of essential learning outcomes…and that accredited institutions make visible their commitment to these learning outcomes and students’ demonstrated achievement of them.”

In her comments, she stresses that “any reforms [of the accreditation process] should keep the role of quality assurance in the hands of institutions of higher education and their membership accrediting organizations” but she also affirms the recommendations AAC&U has been making for many years about learning outcomes that today are needed in every area of endeavor.  These are identified in AAC&U’s Board of Directors Statement, “Our Students’ Best Work: A Framework for Accountability Worthy of Our Mission.”  Building on the recommendations in that document, Schneider suggests that regional accreditors should recognize that there is now a broad-based consensus across higher education and among employers that certain learning outcomes are not elective but essential.  The seven regional accreditors should pledge to make these outcomes central to their accreditation expectations and “[develop] their own processes for ensuring that students in accredited institutions are provided with clear roadmaps to consensus learning outcomes; that curricula are mapped to a clear set of learning outcomes; and that multiple, proven assessment methods are used…to assess the degree to which students are achieving institutional and [also] major-specific learning outcomes.”

In framing her response to the Senate HELP Committee’s call for comments on possible changes to accreditation, Schneider submitted both a one page summary of the LEAP Essential Learning Outcomes that AAC&U has articulated, and also a one page summary of the very similar Degree Qualifications Profile(DQP) proficiencies released this fall following years of “beta” testing by more than four hundred colleges, universities, and community colleges, including several of the regional accrediting associations.

“Both in the economy, and in a globally engaged democracy, all graduates will need such proficiencies as analytic inquiry, communication and quantitative fluency, information literacy, ethical reasoning and judgment, the ability to engage and learn from diverse perspectives, teamwork and problem-solving, civic and global learning, and the ability to apply learning to new settings and unscripted problems,”  said Schneider.  “These proficiencies are essential, not elective and they ought to be a visible part of institutions’ demonstration that they foster high-quality learning.”

“Currently, many accreditors charge institutions to identify ‘learning outcomes.’ It’s time for the accreditors to move beyond that generic term to help the public and students alike understand that these cross-cutting capacities are a critical component of a quality education.”

Read the Senate HELP Committee White Paper on “Higher Education Accreditation: Concepts and Proposals,” President Schneider’s entire statement, and the earlier AAC&U Board Statement, “Our Students’ Best Work: A Framework for Accountability Worthy of Our Mission.”

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