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Commission Calls for Improved Accountability

April 7, 2005

The basic assumption that the United States has the best education system in the world in terms of access, graduates, and research is under challenge, according to the National Commission on Accountability in Higher Education. The commission recently released “Accountability for Better Results: A National Imperative for Higher Education,” which calls on higher education to hold itself to the highest standards of accountability for student success, research, and service and greater productivity. Recommending a shared approach to improved accountability and recognizing the different roles of those involved in higher education, the report issues distinct calls of action for:

  • the federal government;
  • governors, legislators, state boards, and executives of higher education;
  • business and civic leaders;
  • institutional trustees and leaders;
  • accrediting associations; and 
  • faculty and students.

Specifically, the commission urges the federal government to establish a national student unit record data system with privacy safeguards, an effort already under consideration by the U.S. Department of Education. The call to collect data at the student level rather than the institutional level is a response to the changing enrollment patterns of today’s students, many of whom transfer or begin their studies on a part-time basis. Critics of the student record system are concerned about privacy and confidentiality of sensitive data, increased institutional burden, and technical issues.

Institutions must establish and measure progress toward goals that are more specific than, but related to, state goals and fundamental public priorities. According to the report, “A better system of accountability will put more emphasis on successful student learning and high quality research and will decrease the role of superficial comparisons and rankings. It will provide parents, students, concerned citizens, and policymakers the answers to reasonable questions regarding costs, the availability of required courses, what students are learning, and graduation rates.”

Aside from specific calls of action based on role, the report summarizes needs and actions to improve the preparation of students for success in higher education, increase the performance of minority and low-income students, and advance research productivity.

The full report is available on the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) Web site.