Saturday, June 22, 2013

Institutional Effectiveness is a joke.

The Second Joke of Accreditation…Institutional Effectiveness


     Accreditation is viewed as a seal of legitimacy for an educational institution, but flaws in its 19th century structure have made it easily perverted from its original purpose. The first joke of accreditation is the concept of “core requirements”, the courses that anyone with a college degree, anyone with an education, would actually know. In the past, a college graduate knew a language besides the one he was born with, knew mathematics and science beyond the high school level, and knew some of his own culture’s history.

     Now,  a college graduate doesn’t have to know another language…the requirement has been changed to “computer literacy”, a single course (example questions from an actual college test: “what is the hard drive for?” “Where is the monitor?”,  etc). Today’s college graduate need only learn high school mathematics and physical sciences. Instead of history, a graduate can instead have learned a bizarre view of the world (actual quote from a lecture: “When Alexander the Great conquered Alexandria, he found the Great Library there, and took the knowledge back to Greece, to form the basis of Western Civilization.” This quote is from someone with 20 years’ experience teaching this, um, “material” as fact in diversity courses…couldn’t make it up if I tried).  This is now what a college education means for many of our graduates.

     Core requirements are now a joke,  possibly the worst joke of accreditation, but it’s not the only joke. As part of accreditation, institutions also must show that they are effective in what they do, show that they are accomplishing their mission of education.

     That’s a joke, too.


I hate reviewing [Professor]’s work for accreditation. Most of her students just cut-and-paste their papers, and I don’t want to fail almost everyone. Does she even care her students cheat that much?


--Comment I made at a compliance meeting to administration. Nothing came of it, other than now most professors review their own submissions showing their students’ work. Almost all accreditation work is self-approved.


    Institutions can’t simply use grades for the courses as evidence that they’re educating people. It’s too easy to submit bogus grades, I suppose, so institutions use some other evaluation process….with the same instructors that could give bogus grades completing the process. Why is it not possible that the same people giving bogus grades for a course would give bogus results for accreditation?

     Serious issues in logic aside, to show institutional effectiveness, faculty in every class give a simple   assignment that complies with education requirements. The assignment needs to be simple, because if the students didn’t do well, that might be a problem for accreditation. Now, students will only do assignments for grades (I don’t blame them), so this ends up being a very mild grade inflation, acceptable in the name of accreditation. The faculty member then rubber stamps his own assignments for his own students, and passes it off to the compliance person.

     This is how institutions demonstrate that they’re educating students. There are three big issues here, above and beyond the huge (and often realized) potential for fraud.

      First off, these assignments are given early in the semester; this is so that we can collect this data before the drop-off of students that comes when the checks get cashed (it often takes a few weeks before the Federal loan checks finally come in to the college). My pointing out to administration that it’s not exactly fair to “demonstrate” we’re educating students that, in many cases, are just here for the checks falls on deaf ears. Since the assignments are lame enough that anyone can do them, it’s better to do this early in the semester, to get more data showing how effective we are. I really wish I didn’t keep feeling the need to repeat “I can’t make this stuff up.”

     These assignments are for every class (even pre-sub-remedial courses). The typical institution of higher learning’s mission statement says nothing about bringing students to the high school level, the statement says post-secondary education. With nearly the majority of college students in remedial courses, they should be excluding these as not part of the mission. But we get more data with them included.

     Finally, it seems blatantly obvious that we should focus on demonstrating we’re educating our students by only looking at the students that are graduating (i.e., looking at the students that we claim we’re educating) as opposed to everyone with a pulse, but such is only obvious to faculty and not the decision makers. Semester after semester, we show that we’re accomplishing our mission on students nearly as quickly as they come on campus, with nary a question asked about how silly that sounds.

     Nonetheless, this is how “institutional effectiveness” is satisfied, by showing that we actually achieve our mission on basically every student within a few weeks of that student walking in the door. For added laughs, note that we self-report this by self-assessing how our own students do on assignments of our own choosing.

     Being accredited is taken to mean the institution is legitimate, but this legitimacy is verified not by the accrediting agency, but by the institution…talk about foxes guarding henhouses.

     Imagine if instead of all the self-reporting, accrediting bodies actually took a look at the graduates, and verified with their own eyes that the graduates really were capable of doing work comparable to what the institution says they can do. Accrediting might mean something if accrediting agencies really verified that degree-holding students had some sort of verifiable education.

     “Trust, but cut the cards,” is such a meaningful expression, but not when it comes to accreditation. What I’ve said above applies only to what I’ve known—public and non-profit institutions of higher education—and you might think I’m exaggerating how ridiculous it is. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) of the federal government has decided to regularly look at what’s going on in for-profit schools (naturally, a government department won’t look at government-run schools…), by sending in undercover “students” to slack their way through classes. An excerpt from one such report:


…One or more instructors at 2 colleges repeatedly noted that the students were submitting plagiarized work, but no action was taken to remove the student. One or more instructors at the 4 remaining colleges did not adhere to grading standards. For example, one student submitted photos of celebrities and political figures in lieu of essay question responses but still earned a passing grade…

     ---Widespread cheating and bogus grading? I’m shocked, shocked. That would NEVER happen at a public instit…never mind. Incidentally, all of the undercover students attempted to enroll with bogus credentials; 80% of the bogus credentials were accepted. Unqualified students being enrolled into college to get a larger student base and more loan money? I’m shocked, shocked. That would NEVER…oh, forget it.


     What’s important to realize in these GAO reports is, as far as accreditation is concerned, none of what the GAO finds is relevant…those are major schools referenced above, and they’re still quite accredited. Isn’t it interesting that even if a school’s education is completely bogus, the student is still on the hook for the loan money? There’s consumer protection against fraud in every other industry, but not education.

     An accredited school is one that has shown that it is effective at educating students. This effectiveness is determined by the school, using its own employees and its own measurements. It’s not practical to look at every single class meeting and every assignment, but shouldn’t the accrediting body check on its own at some point?

Think about it.




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