Mary Ellen Petrisko Testifies to Congress

WSCUC Remains a Leader in Regulatory Quality

I’ve only met Dr. Mary Ellen Petrisko a few times — both opportunities during small group settings and neither of which were likely uniquely memorable. Nevertheless, for years, I’ve admired Mary Ellen’s groundbreaking work and professional agenda. She’s an educational leader who serves higher education with thoughtful stewardship and an active interest in defending its role as a public good. After watching Dr. Petrisko testify before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Education and the Workforce Committee, my admiration certainly seems well-grounded and appropriate.

The WSCUC President urged lawmakers to reconsider traditional forms of evidence due to their unsettling limitations in data structure. Underscoring the blemishes inherent within current federal requirements for institutional reporting to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Mary Ellen informed Chairwoman Foxx that data element definitions exclude students who are not first-time, full-time.

Mary Ellen rightfully asserted, “While I believe that accreditors do a good job in protecting students, I also believe that steps could be taken in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act to create a stronger accountability system and, therefore, better serve students.”  Mary Ellen clearly went on to demonstrate the regional accreditor’s leadership in collecting useful, actionable evidence by briefly summarizing the Graduation Rate Dashboard.

Indeed, conversations concerning student success in higher education ought to be less about U.S. Department of Education data submission requirements, and more about meaningful discourse on use of evidence of student learning, retention, completion, and, ultimately, their participation in a global and diverse economy.

The President effectively concluded her testimony with these three recommendations in support of “innovation, transparency, and appropriate levels of regulation”:

  1. “I believe that it is critical that the HEA reauthorization support the innovation necessary to support current and, especially, future students, and that it allow our accreditors the flexibility to review and approve innovations in a safe zone, as is allowed by current, experimental sites.”
  2. “Whatever steps are taken to provide greater transparency should ensure that students can access accurate and relevant information on our institutions. Currently available data from the College Navigator and Scorecard are sometimes inaccurate, sometimes in conflict with one another, and limited due to their reliance on IPEDS.”
  3. “I hope that excessive regulation related to substantive change and credit hour will be addressed and moderated. Such regulations inhibit innovation, add costs, and are a burden to institutions, and do not add value.”

As a participatory WSCUC peer reviewer and evaluator of institutions’ compliance with the standards of accreditation, I applaud Dr. Petrisko’s sentiment and look forward to collaborating with institutions to understand how their evidence is collected, analyzed, disseminated, and interpreted.

Recommendations for Accreditation Compliance

Institutions are inspected for evidence of meaning-making and use of information to improve practices, policies, or procedures. This is, of course, the business of accreditation and offers assurances to the public. For institutions under the WSCUC, a number of criteria request said evidences. The following represent several methods for turning this information into action, although many more approaches exist:

  1. At a minimum, institutions should ensure that outcomes data are disaggregated by demographic characteristics – like race, ethnicity, gender, sex, among others – to inspect possible disproportionate impact.
  2. Disproportionate impact investigations can be performed using this established methodology.
  3. Identify and develop explanations for trends evident in the Graduation Rate Dashboard criteria. Try to go beyond speculation, and delve into both institutional implications and areas for further inquiry.
  4. Locate comparative data within your region and, using a robust peer grouping methodology, compare and contrast findings with your executive team and institutional research professionals.

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