Changing Higher Ed Podcast 143 with Host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and Guest Ralph Wolff:
Should Accreditors Help Higher Ed Identify What’s Good Enough for Them?
Now more than ever, accreditation is essential in higher education. An increasingly high number of professional accrediting bodies touch and impact colleges and universities to the point where accreditors have the potential to lead or even stifle change in higher ed. This is especially true given that accreditation is the gatekeeper for over $150 billion in federal financial aid.
In the first of this two-part series, Dr. Drumm McNaughton speaks with Ralph Wolff, the founder and former president of the Quality Assurance Commons for Higher and Postsecondary Education, and former president of WASC, the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, about how and why accreditors should help higher ed identify what is good enough for them and to improve their transparency of throughput, academic quality, and academic rigor. They also discuss accreditors’ stances on DEI, the politicization of critical race theory, and the professionalization of college sports.
- DEI is multi-dimensional, and the political elements of critical race theory are important to discuss, not just to legislate. Accreditors are addressing these issues, but they could be doing even more.
- Up until recently, the federal rule required that institutions publish an aggregate rate of outcomes after four and six years. Now they are producing programmatic data and grouping disciplines together.
- Accreditors are beginning to look more at outcomes. Still, they need to push higher ed to be more transparent with specific outcomes, such as the percentage of students who have graduated with particular majors and their salaries one, three, and five years later.
- The University of Texas System’s UT SEEK, Georgia State, the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, and Third Way are pioneers in publishing the outcomes that students care about.
- Accreditation needs to get higher ed to take more responsibility for defining what is good enough for them, e.g., grade-point averages, competency-based learning, and retention and completion. During accreditation, outcomes between majors and two and four-year programs, for example, should be separated.
- Higher ed needs to address its integrity issue with the special treatment that student-athletes generally receive. It also needs to clearly define what student-athlete learning outcomes should be and the effectiveness of the general education curriculum for student-athletes.
Our Podcast Guest – Ralph A. Wolff
Ralph A. Wolff is the founder and former president of The Quality Assurance Commons for Higher and Postsecondary Education, created in 2016 to ensure that graduates of academic and postsecondary programs have the requisite Essential Employability Qualities (EEQs) needed for the dynamically changing workforce. The QA Commons ran a national pilot and then worked with state higher education systems in Kentucky and Connecticut and individual institutions to improve employability outcomes. It also developed a successful faculty fellows program in Kentucky to build faculty advocates for connecting to workforce needs.
Previously, Wolff served as president of the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) from 1996-2013. WASC served over 1 million students at more than 175 institutions in California, Hawaii, the Pacific Islands, and numerous international locations. He was a leading voice for innovation in accreditation and focused on learning outcomes, equity, and transparency in creating a national leader in accreditation.
He is a former member of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI), which reviews accrediting agencies for federal recognition, and is a founding member of the University Quality Assurance Institutional Board (UQAIB) in Dubai. He also is a Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science and a trustee of the World University Consortium.
He has served on multiple university boards and consults widely on innovation, quality assurance, accreditation reform, and how new technology platforms can transform student outcomes.
Wolff holds a JD degree with honors from George Washington University and a BA from Tufts University. He has recently moved to Sedona, AZ.
About the Host
Dr. Drumm McNaughton, host and consultant to higher ed institutions.
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