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New Contributor II

Accountability vs. Learning

As most of you are aware, the Spellings report that was released a couple of years ago sent higher education into the vortex of "greater accountability." In addition, our recent economic state has aggrevated this issue further. Earlier this month the governor of Texas, Rick Perry, made an executive order ( wherein:

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, in cooperation with Texas public institutions of higher education, shall undertake a broad and comprehensive review of system-wide opportunities for achieving cost efficiencies, including, but not limited to:

    • state funding based on student course completion;
    • restructuring the state’s financial aid programs to improve administrative efficiencies and to provide financial aid to students who work hard to academically prepare for college;
    • academic program consolidation and elimination of programs that produce relatively few graduates;
    • faculty workload;
    • articulation agreements between two-year and four-year institutions
    • distance learning;
    • alternatives to creating new campuses;
    • course redesign to improve quality and reduce instructional costs for more courses;
    • cooperative, cross-system contracting and purchasing
    • space utilization;
    • energy use; and
    • cost of instructional materials.

In addition, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board shall conduct a review of higher education cost efficiencies implemented in other states and other countries.

We can discuss many of these points, but let's focus on student course completion. You can probably imagine how our administrators are reacting to such an order... being funded based on student course completion. We have known for some time that this may happen. Although the concept behind the order makes sense, the execution is problematic.(I won't pull the academic freedom card, although if it isn't pulled now, I don't know when it would ever be pulled.)  If faculty jobs are going to be assessed based on student retention rates, I can see some caving to grade inflation and appeasing students so they won't withdraw, hence keeping bread on the table.

What about learning, independent thinking and intellectual growth and maturity? Where do they fit in the equation for higher education? What are other states doing to deal with the call for increased accountability? Does anyone see these efforts propelling us back to the head of the line globally in STEM? As a country, where are we really going?

Amina Khalifa El-Ashmawy

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