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The Roles of Accountability and Assessment in a College’s Value Proposition

As families of all income levels become even more discerning about what they are able and willing to pay for college, the higher education marketplace is highly attuned to return on investment—which, as The Lawlor Group often notes, is calculated on the basis of cost, quality, and results. These are the key variables for individuals and families assessing today’s higher education value proposition. And prospective students and their families are not the only ones paying more attention to the particular outcomes a college can deliver, as these recent developments indicate:

  • “Support grows for public availability of student employment outcomes,” states an Education Dive summary of the Chronicle’s reporting about the legislative status of a student unit-record system. Bipartisan agreement is expanding within the U.S. Congress that families need better information to choose a college based on new graduates’ job placements and other outcomes data.
  • Reporting on the most recent meeting of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity federal accreditation panel, Inside Higher Ed noted a prevailing view that, at the systemic level, “accreditors are not doing enough to push colleges to graduate more students and improve their post-graduation outcomes.”
  • A task force of higher education industry representatives convened by the consultancy Entangled Solutions has devised a framework for a third-party quality assurance system that would measure and assess learning outcomes and student success. While intended to serve the accreditation needs of coding boot camps and other non-traditional education providers, the Chronicle reports “the group says it hopes eventually to apply its standards and its approach across higher education.”
  • In looking at results of the new Education Consumer Pulse poll from Gallup, an op-ed in The Los Angeles Times notes that “students applying to college don’t seem to know what kind of higher education will bring them the most satisfaction” and argues for college ratings systems to account for “this most basic of consumer questions: Are the buyers—the students—happy with their choices down the line?”
  • An economist used the results of that same Gallup poll in a study to determine whether consumer reviews could be used as an accurate indicator of overall quality in choosing a college. reports how findings indicated “survey-based consumer ratings can provide valid and reliable quality comparisons across postsecondary institutions.”

The demand (coming from multiple directions) for colleges’ accountability in providing a quality experience that leads to immediate and sustained graduate success places attention squarely on the institution’s value proposition. This customer-centric focus serves as a catalyst for colleges and universities to be more proactive about delivering compelling results and then actively communicating their persuasive evidence.

Renewed Push for Unit Record

“Here’s How a Student ‘Unit Record’ System Could Change Higher Ed” traces the evolution of the federal College Transparency Act. (Chronicle)

Gallup’s Education Consumer Pulse 

The inaugural report’s focus: Would U.S. adults pursue the same level of education? Pursue the same area of study? Attend the same institution? (Strada)

Social Listening

Our guest blogger Liz Gross shows how online conversations about an institution can be valuable input in its reputation management efforts. (Smarketplace)


Lawlor Recommends

Obviously, the push for colleges and universities to ensure successful outcomes for their students is not going to let up anytime soon. Higher education institutions are being held more accountable for their students’ results, and the focus on outcomes is leading to innovations in the assessment of colleges’ effectiveness in delivering them. These very real market conditions are causing tremendous disruption for many colleges and universities—and while some campus cultures and leaders will remain frozen in time, others will recognize the necessity to be “edupreneurial” and respond to the evolving reality of the higher education marketplace.

For nearly 30 years, we have been advocating the importance of gathering market intelligence to inform intelligent solutions. Achieving successful results and accomplishing continuous improvement requires proactive, market-smart initiatives like customized research, audits, social listening, and cooperative collaboration with others (internally and externally). When it comes to communicating your college’s value proposition, it’s time to innovate in capturing and sharing evidence that persuades.