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The Many Faces of Accountability

Tomorrow's Academy

Message Number: 
631

Like most compacts, the one between American society and higher education became strained when rights and responsibilities moved from vague generalities to specific demands and competed for funding with other public services. Specifics always strain consensus, as do funding constraints. In addition, external complaints about the rampant costs, questionable outcomes, inadequate outputs, and the internal focus of colleges and universities raised successive questions about their economy, quality, productivity, and responsiveness to societal needs (McGuinness, 1997).

Folks:

The posting below looks at the recent history of accountability in higher education. It is from Chapter One, The Many Faces of Accountability by Joseph C. Burke, in, Achieving Accountability in Higher Education Balancing Public, Academic, and Market Demands, Joseph C. Burke and Associates. Copyright © 2005 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved. Published by Jossey-Bass. A Wiley Imprint. 989 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94103-1741. [www.josseybass.com] Reprinted with permission.

Regards,

Rick Reis

reis@stanford.edu

UP NEXT: Left-Brained Versus Right-Brained: Which is Best for Learning?

Tomorrow's Academia

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THE MANY FACES OF ACCOUNTABILITY

Joseph C. Burke

Decades of Decline

Like most compacts, the one between American society and higher education became strained when rights and responsibilities moved from vague generalities to specific demands and competed for funding with other public services. Specifics always strain consensus, as do funding constraints. In addition, external complaints about the rampant costs, questionable outcomes, inadequate outputs, and the internal focus of colleges and universities raised successive questions about their economy, quality, productivity, and responsiveness to societal needs (McGuinness, 1997). Not surprisingly, recessions and failing revenues contributed to these complaints. As a result, says Massy, "universities and professors began a long slide from objects of awe to subjects of accountability" (2003a, p. 20).

The social compact that provided the glue between the general public and higher education stuck fairly well through the 1950s to the late 1960s, when student lifestyles and war protests alienated some of the general public and government officials. During these decades, the older public and private colleges and universities expanded, and new campuses emerged to meet the burgeoning demand for college education spurred first by the GI Bill that encouraged returning soldiers to enroll in college and then by the so-called baby boom of their sons and daughters. The following decades brought problems that undermined the consensus of the social compact. Although the problems and programs of accountability never fall neatly into ten-year spans, the decades described next capture the changing trends.

1970s

By the early 1970s, fissures in the social compact opened up, beginning with the falling revenues from a recession and fears of enrollment declines at the end of the baby boom. States adopted more centralized governance through coordinating boards and multicampus systems to control development of new institutions and program duplication (McGuinness, 1994). In response to an anticipated decline in enrollment demand, more centralized governance sought to limit the resources granted to higher education. With economy as the goal, regulation became the lever of accountability and bureaucrats the agents. A pattern developed in this first decade of decline in the social compact. Each partner started holding the other side to more specific and stringent tests. States and society reduced support and demanded more services; colleges and university requested more funding and started raising tuition, although not nearly to the degree as in the next decade.

The 1980s

By the 1980s, external concerns moved from economy to quality. Complaints about the lack of student learning in public schools, as voiced in A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983), eventually moved to college campuses. Two-thirds of the states mandated, by legislation, that public colleges and universities adopt plans for assessing student learning. State officials dictated the policy but left the method of determination to campus professionals (see Chapter Five). Assessment shifted the focus of accountability from centralized state regulations to decentralized campus processes for identifying the knowledge and skills that graduates should posses, developing the method for assessing the extent of their achievement, and using the results to improve institutional performance. Although assessment programs focused on campus processes, the real goal was improving quality outcomes in student learning (McGuinness, 1997). This approach tried to!

combine public accountability with professional autonomy by tying external accountability to institutional improvement (see Chapter Five).

The 1990s

By the late 1980s and especially the early 1990s, the expanded services provided by federal, state, and local governments shifted the emphasis of public accountability in government and public services from procedural protection to performance production. Osborne and Gaebler (1992) called for "reinventing government," which focused on organizational results and customer services. Governments, in line with businesses, should decentralize authority while holding unit managers responsible for reaching designated results. Reinventing government combined decentralization with direction by being tight on setting goals and evaluating performance but loose in allowing managers to choose the means for achieving the desired results. Decentralization encouraged "managerial" accountability, while direction on the desired results ensured "political" accountability (Peters and Pierre, 1998, p, 232).

In line with reinventing government, the 1990s continued decentralization for higher education but this time with definite directions. Programs in the 1990s dictated the goals of efficiency and effectiveness through indicators measuring institutional performance but generally left campus managers to determine the means of achieving these ends (see Chapter Ten). Aside from deregulation movement, several factors forced the change. The first two stemmed from the decline in public funding and from what outsiders perceived as the slow response of higher education to the needs of a knowledge and information society. Burgeoning enrollment demand in the South and West as a result of the "baby boom echo" added to the pressure (King, 2000; Zumeta, 2001; Ewell, Paulson, and Wellman, 1997). State governments and coordinating boards adopted policies of performance reporting, budgeting, and funding (Burke and Associates, 2002; Burke and Minassians, 2002b; Chapter Ten). Whereas asses!

sment policies focused on campus processes, performance programs supposedly centered on outputs and outcome (McGuiness, 1997). State policymakers replaced campus professionals as the agents of the new accountability (Lively, 1992).

The Early 2000s

In the first years of the new century, the thrust of accountability seemed to shift again. Reduced state revenues from another recession and competition from rising costs of Medicaid and public schools once more reduced taxpayer funding for colleges and universities. As public support diminished, public demands escalated, confirming that taxpayer support and public demands are seldom in sync.

Increasing student enrollments and exploding state needs in workforce and economic development, as well as in public schools and teacher training, call for increased responsiveness from colleges and universities. Although the rhetoric on a college education as a public good remains in speeches by governors and legislators, students and parents are expected to pay a rising share of the costs through tuition and fees for what is often seen in state capitols as more of a private benefit for graduates. Private markets increasingly drive developments in public as well as private colleges and universities. "[N]ow it's the market, not the commonweal, that calls the shots," says Kirp (2003a, p. 2). States leave more and more of the directions and costs of higher education to private markets while managing them at times, by intervening to encourage public priorities through program and funding initiatives (McGuinness, 20002).