Engaging Students

One of The QA Commons’ core principles is that students should be involved in quality assurance processes at every level. Current quality assurance systems in the United States only minimally involve students, typically through occasional surveys, student representation on self-study committees, or meetings with selected students during a site visit. As key stakeholders of higher and postsecondary education, it is essential and valuable to have students and recent graduates involved. Several perspectives inform our position, including the following:

  • As direct beneficiaries of their education, and deep investors of time and money into it, students are key stakeholders in higher and postsecondary educational quality. Quality matters to them significantly. 
  •  The demographics of students in higher and postsecondary education in the U.S. are significantly changing; likewise, students’ needs to ensure and achieve a high-quality education are changing as well. All students should have opportunities for voice and choice in understanding and assuring quality. 
  • Students have deeply informed perspectives about their experiences of and learning in higher educational settings. Their experiences and their ideas for improvement can be valuable.  

Initial Findings From Student Outreach

During the fall of 2016, we engaged in preliminary outreach to a variety of students from several higher educational institutions (including community colleges, public and private colleges and universities, and graduate-level programs) via interviews and focus groups regarding quality assurance and accreditation. Four central themes emerged from this initial outreach. Generally:

  1. Students lack good information about accreditation and about program or institutional quality.
  2. Students are deeply concerned about programs leading to employment; they have little faith that there’s a direct route or that they are being adequately prepared for future work.
  3. Most institutions and programs have poor feedback mechanisms for students, or if feedback mechanisms are in place, students may not know about them or feel comfortable using them.
  4. Students currently rely mostly on the institution or program itself for information about quality. There is no independent place for them to find verifiable information on program or institutional performance.

Despite this lack of information, students desire to be involved and to better understand quality assurance mechanisms.

The QA Commons’ Student Engagement Initiatives

We have undertaken a series of initiatives to ensure students inform our work and have a central role in quality assurance. In addition to our ongoing exploration into students’ perspectives about higher and postsecondary education quality, we are including students in our work in the following ways:

  • We have two students — one graduate, one undergraduate — on our Advisory Board.
  • We are learning about other countries’ models for student engagement, such as sparqs in Scotland, to identify key elements of student engagement that we may wish to adopt or adapt.
  • We are forming partnerships with student advocacy organizations such as National Campus Leadership Council to promote student inclusion in quality assurance initiatives.

Additionally, we have formed our Student Quality Assurance Advising Delegation (SQAAD) to guide student engagement in our work, and we are developing a strategic plan to engage and empower learners of all types in knowledge about and work in quality assurance. The goals of SQAAD are to:

  • Support The QA Commons in its projects through regular consultation and advice;
  • Lead the development of a student-inclusive quality assurance approach;
  • Disseminate information to students across the country about quality assurance processes and student engagement;
  • Participate in the design of quality assurance processes and potentially serve as trained reviewers;
  • Produce policy documents regarding student engagement in quality assurance;
  • Engage their networks in promoting and supporting student-engagement in quality assurance.

Connect With Us!

If you wish to become involved in this work or have questions about it, please contact Simon Boehme, the Director of Student Engagement, at simon@theqacommons.org.