Quality in Colleges is Not the Issue

A New Higher Education Daily

A new daily higher education newsletter has been launched in Canada. The Higher Education Strategy Association now provides a daily perspective related to higher education.  Like Academica’s Top Ten, this service provides interesting information while serving the company as an effective marketing platform; a trojan horse if you will.  These sites are helpful and they provide a Canadian perspective that often expand upon those provided by competitors such as Inside Higher Education, The Chronicle of Higher Ed. and Times Higher Ed., among others.  I would encourage those interested in higher education to visit HESA’s very informative website (http://higheredstrategy.com).

I was pleased to see that Alex Usher provided the commentary for the August 26, 2011 edition of ‘One Thought to Start Your Day’.  I enjoy reading the author’s perspectives; he is one of Canada’s foremost thought leaders on high education.

In the August 26 article ‘Trust’, the question of quality assurance agencies and their relationship with universities was addressed.  Therein, it was stated that students need to know their degree is worth something.  This is very true.  Degree mills are a concern.  Even in Canada, we have witnessed the closing of institutions due to quality concerns (Note: the definition of quality in higher education requires much more time than this short article provides).  I tend to question the real, measurable value these agencies bring.  However, I have little concern with the overall position taken by the author.

Quality in Colleges

What is interesting, yet unfortunate, is when he muses, “but what happens when you let in new players, like private universities or community colleges, into the degree granting game”.

On a technicality, private universities have existed in North America for years.  In fact, the first college (Harvard – 1636) and first university (University of Pennsylvania – 1740) are both private institutions as are Stanford, Williams, Dartmouth and many others.  I believe what the author meant to state was that private, for-profit institutions are of concern (yet many of them too would also suggest their quality assurance processes are greater than many of their public contemporaries).

The issue I do have with this article (and with others who reflect similar views) is the perceived quality gap that they believe is simply inherent in colleges.  The juxtaposition is that all universities have some special, equitable level of quality that does not need to be assured.  However, I can state with certainty that universities in this country and in America reflect a great range of quality.  I would also suggest that many within the Academy, particularly those in selective institutions, often subtly make this point to the detriment of smaller, more open access universities (also with little evidence).

A challenge we have in Canada is the naïve assumption that only institutions designated as a university are committed to quality.  It is not comprehendible to me that simply holding this legislated designation ensures these institutions are blessed with some level of standard of practice; a practice that is consistent in every program, in every course, and within every professor.  This, in my mind is quite silly, is naïve but mostly it is unfortunate.

Manage Quality in Universities but Don’t Malign Colleges

Has the time come to challenge quality in universities?  Should quality assurance agencies play a greater role in measuring quality in universities?  I will let my university colleagues manage that possible infringement.  However, what I do know is that this question can be addressed without maligning the quality that is inherent in colleges in the country.



About kentmacdonald

President and Vice Chancellor Professor, Faculty of Education St. Francis Xavier University
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