Why New Approaches for Quality Assurance Are Needed

The 21st century workplace has changed dramatically, as have the needs of society for an educated citizenry. Current forms of quality assurance and accreditation in higher and postsecondary education were not designed to respond to this rapidly changing environment. New approaches are needed to respond to such changes, including:

  • Increasing diversity of learners in terms of age, preparation, racial and ethnic backgrounds, socioeconomic status, and attendance patterns;
  • The development of new providers and approaches such as MOOCs, coding academies, competency-based education, and partnerships with non-traditional providers;
  • A proliferation of credentials such as badges, nanodegrees, certificates, and certifications;
  • Serious issues of retention and completion within certain programs, institutions, and student populations;
  • Increasing cost / debt for learners;
  • Failure to effectively serve underrepresented student populations;
  • Lack of demonstrable learning gains for too many college graduates;
  • Inadequate preparation of graduates for a 21st century workforce;
  • Widespread concerns about the value and return on investment of higher education.

Accreditation, designed to focus on traditional higher educational institutions and programs, has continued to struggle to maintain pace with this changing world.

Critical Elements of A New Quality Assurance Approach

New models of quality assurance need to be designed to respond to these changing needs. We believe that critical elements of new prototypes of quality assurance include:

  • Assuring that graduates are prepared for work and life in 21st century;
  • Evaluating demonstrable learning outcomes;
  • Focusing on retention and completion benchmarks appropriate to the program/institutional context;
  • Ensuring quality for the variety of credentials offered;
  • Recognizing that standards and criteria must continually evolve to meet changing needs.

A new approach would address these outcomes and operate in the following ways, by:

  • Engaging students and employers substantively in every element of the quality assurance process;
  • Incorporating validated metrics of institutional and program performance;
  • Requiring transparency for all elements of the quality assurance process;
  • Outsourcing and unbundling key functions to focus peer review in those areas where it adds the most value;
  • Using technology for predictive analytics of performance and reducing burden on providers.

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