Career-Focused Outcomes in Higher Education

Career-Focused Outcomes in Higher Education

In an educational landscape where scrutiny is high, academic institutions find themselves under the microscope, particularly in demonstrating their value to stakeholders. To address this, colleges and universities must articulate their commitment to preparing students for the workforce effectively. This involves not only showcasing career-focused outcomes but also ensuring a tangible return on investment. Metrics have become the tool of choice, allowing institutions to gauge success both at a macro and micro level.

From Classroom to Career

It’s so important for colleges and universities to show the academic community, as well as the public at large, that they provide good value for the money that students, donors, and taxpayers invest in them each year. One of the ways they do this is through career-focused outcomes. Higher education institutions must be able to answer questions like:

Career-Focused Outcomes

Career-Focused Outcomes Using a Macro vs. Micro Lens

Metrics like these are measured in various ways. An entire institution, for example, may view this through a broad lens, and may answer questions like these from a macro perspective. However, each academic program should be able to collect, analyze, and interpret data tailored to its specific area in order to answer the ROI question from more of a drilled-down, micro perspective.

Teacher Effectiveness and Positive Impact

In educator preparation, for example, one important indicator of a program’s quality can be found in the performance of its graduates, typically up to three years post-graduation. Teacher preparation program faculty and staff must look closely at a large number of performance indicators, two of which are teacher effectiveness and positive impact on student learning. These are related concepts, but they are not necessarily synonymous. Let’s break down the similarities and differences:


  • Focus on Student Outcomes: Both teacher effectiveness and positive impact center around achieving positive outcomes in students’ learning and development.
  • Student Progress: Both concepts involve assessing and improving students’ progress, academic achievements, and overall growth.


  • Teacher effectiveness: Typically refers to how well a teacher can facilitate learning and engage students in the educational process. It is often measured through various factors such as classroom management skills, instructional techniques, subject knowledge, and adherence to curriculum standards. Typical pieces of evidence for determining teacher effectiveness often include peer observations, principal evaluations, a review of teaching methods, lesson plans, and classroom management practices.
  • Positive Impact on Students:  Involves not only effective teaching but also fostering a supportive and motivating environment that contributes to students’ personal and academic growth. It goes beyond traditional academic metrics and may include factors like students’ social-emotional development, critical thinking skills, and overall well-being. Evidence for positive impact can include student testimonials, changes in behavior or attitudes, academic improvement, and long-term success beyond the classroom. Another way schools and states try to determine positive impact comes from value-added data, which involves measures that typically focus on quantifying the specific contribution a teacher makes to students’ academic achievement, often measured through standardized test scores.


It is very important for higher education institutions to create a well-balanced schema for answering questions related to job preparation, positive impact, and overall return on investment. They must collect and analyze data from a variety of internal and external high-quality assessments. It’s about tracking results over time and making informed decisions with a commitment to continuous improvement.

In essence, the pursuit of showcasing career-focused outcomes is a collective effort that involves the institution as a whole and each academic program individually. By embracing a holistic perspective and delving into program-specific metrics, colleges and universities can not only provide answers to pertinent questions, but also demonstrate their unwavering commitment to delivering value in the evolving landscape of higher education.



About the Author: A former public school teacher and college administrator, Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher provides consultative support to colleges and universities in quality assurance, accreditation, educator preparation and competency-based education. Specialty: Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).  She can be reached at:


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Competency-Based Education: A Paradigm Shift in Higher Learning

CBE A Paradigm Shift in Higher Learning

We need a paradigm shift in higher learning. For over a century, the Carnegie Unit has been the cornerstone of American education, providing a time-based standard for student progress. However, as the landscape of education evolves, the limitations of this model become apparent, prompting educators to explore innovative alternatives. One such model gaining significant traction is Competency-Based Education (CBE). In this post, I’ll delve into the merits of CBE and offer some practical tips for higher education professionals looking to pilot this transformative approach. 

Rethinking Education in the 21st Century

The traditional education model often propels students forward collectively, irrespective of individual learning paces or abilities. The disruption caused by events like COVID-19 has underscored the need for a more adaptive and personalized approach. We know that each learner is different, and they come with a variety of learning needs as well as life and work experiences. For too long, we’ve used a cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all approach to teaching and learning — particularly at the higher education level. Enter Competency-Based Education, a paradigm that requires learners to demonstrate their understanding and skills through rigorous assessments rather than mere attendance. It also requires faculty members, administrators, and other staff to rethink their roles and how they support students through their academic journey.

Unveiling the Essence of CBE

Competency-Based Education isn’t about taking the easy route; it’s about embracing a different and more effective methodology. Instead of passively absorbing information, students are challenged to showcase their knowledge and abilities through high-quality assessments. This approach is inherently standards-based and is built on evolving educational and/or industry-specific standards. This is far different from what most faculty members are used to, when they alone decide what content to teach in their classes, how students will meet their expectations, and the pace at which students may progress through a course. 

Key Principles of Competency-Based Education

Traditional learning and CBE learning share a common goal of wanting students to be successful. It’s how they meet that goal that’s different. Here are some key “big picture” ways where a competency-based model is quite different from a traditional course-based model:

Competency-based education is a paradigm shift in higher learning.

A Paradigm Shift: Tips for Piloting CBE in Higher Education

I’ve presented at conferences on this topic, and multiple times have been approached by a college dean or department chair who was interested in bringing the CBE model to their campus. Few realize that changing to this model — either retrofitting an existing program or creating a program from scratch — require a considerable paradigm shift not only to academics, but to infrastructure services (i.e., enrollment & admissions, registrar, bookstore, academic advising, etc.). I even had a dean once pull out a pen and small tablet out of her purse, waiting for me to give her three easy steps to CBE, as if it was a biscuit recipe. The truth is, competency-based education is a complex approach to teaching and learning. Once it’s in place, the payoff can be tremendous — but stakeholders must understand the cultural changes that must take place in order for CBE to become a long-term reality within their institutions.

Here are a few key tips for launching CBE at the higher education level: CBE is a paradigm shift in higher learning.

A Long-Term Commitment to Student Success

Competency-Based Education is not a quick fix, but a powerful, long-term solution to enhance student learning, achievement, and satisfaction. It truly is a paradigm shift in higher learning. I think it’s time to take the leap into a future where education adapts to the needs of the learner.


About the Author: A former public school teacher and college administrator, Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher provides consultative support to colleges and universities in quality assurance, accreditation, educator preparation and competency-based education. Specialty: Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).  She can be reached at: 

Top Photo Credit: Kaleidico on Unsplash 

CBE: A Transformative Approach for Higher Learning



In the dynamic landscape of education, where the needs and expectations of learners continue to evolve, Competency-Based Education (CBE) stands out as a powerful and adaptive model. Initially prevalent in P-12 schools, CBE is progressively gaining recognition and traction in higher education. For those interested in exploring new and better ways to meet the needs of learners, it’s crucial to understand the transformative potential of CBE and how to initiate this innovative model in your institution.

Understanding the Core Principles of Competency-Based Education

Demonstrative Assessment

CBEIn a CBE, students showcase their knowledge and skills through a variety of high-quality formative and summative assessments. This approach shifts the focus from traditional testing to a more comprehensive evaluation of a student’s true understanding and application of concepts.

Measurable and Clear Expectations

CBE emphasizes measurable and clearly defined expectations. Learners are aware of the specific targets they need to reach in order to demonstrate competency or proficiency in key concepts or skills aligned with standards. This clarity empowers students to take ownership of their learning journey.

Outcome Over Seat Time

Let’s face it: We’ve all had students who showed up for class, but never answered a question and could barely stay awake. Or they sat glued to their phone throughout the period and couldn’t wait to make their exit. Unlike traditional models that rely on seat time, CBE prioritizes what students learn rather than how long they spend in a classroom. This flexibility allows students to progress at their own pace, accommodating those with diverse life or work experiences who may not require a conventional college experience.

Mentorship Model

Faculty members transition from direct instructors to mentors or learning coaches. This shift is fundamental in supporting student learning, enabling them to work independently and guiding them through their educational journey. The mentorship model fosters a personalized approach to education. Truthfully, some faculty members have a difficult time in making this transition. But for those who are able, it can be tremendously satisfying to support students on their educational journey, rather than being the sage on the stage.

Data-Driven Decisions

Instructional decisions in a CBE environment are data-driven. Regular assessments provide valuable insights into student progress, allowing faculty to tailor their support and interventions based on individual needs. This personalized approach contributes to a more effective learning experience.

Navigating CBE Implementation Challenges

CBEInitiating CBE at the college or university level requires a comprehensive institutional commitment. This commitment involves a paradigm shift in the faculty model, changes in registration and scheduling processes, and adaptations to student support services. Here are a few practical tips to navigate these challenges:

Faculty Development

Invest in comprehensive faculty training programs to equip educators with the skills and mindset required for the mentorship role. Workshops on coaching techniques, personalized learning strategies, and outcome-oriented assessment methods can be invaluable.

Flexible Scheduling and Registration

Redefine traditional scheduling structures to accommodate the individualized pace of CBE. Implement flexible course structures and explore modular approaches to allow students to progress based on their demonstrated competencies.

Technology Integration

Leverage educational technology to facilitate personalized learning pathways. Learning management systems, data analytics tools, and adaptive learning platforms can enhance the effectiveness of CBE by providing real-time insights into student performance.

Communication and Marketing

Effectively communicate the benefits of CBE to both faculty and students. Highlight the flexibility, personalized learning experiences, and real-world applicability of competencies acquired. Develop marketing strategies to attract students who seek a non-traditional educational experience.

Accreditation Alignment

Collaborate with accrediting bodies to ensure that your institution’s competency-based instructional models align with their standards. Stay informed about modifications in regulations and actively engage in discussions with accrediting agencies to demonstrate the effectiveness and rigor of the CBE approach. While hesitant at first, many accrediting bodies such as the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), and other bodies recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) have modified their regulations to include competency-based instructional models.

Embracing the Future of Education

CBEWhile the transition to Competency-Based Education may present challenges, the benefits are substantial. It provides a pathway for institutions to meet the needs of a diverse student population, acknowledging the rich experiences that learners bring to the table. Moreover, the flexibility of CBE can be a strategic advantage in attracting a broader range of students.

As pioneers in higher education, faculty, department chairs, deans, provosts, and accreditation specialists have the opportunity to shape the future of learning. By embracing the principles of CBE and strategically navigating the implementation challenges, institutions can create an environment that not only meets the evolving needs of students but also positions them as leaders in innovative education.


About the Author: A former public school teacher and college administrator, Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher provides consultative support to colleges and universities in quality assurance, accreditation, educator preparation and competency-based education. Specialty: Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).  She can be reached at:


Top Photo Credit: Dollar Gill on Unsplash


Quality Assurance System: The Drivetrain of Institutional Effectiveness

Quality Assurance System

If you spend much time at all within the accreditation space, you’ll undoubtedly hear someone in higher education say, “Oh, we have a Quality Assurance System (QAS); we use _________.” They’ll proudly point to a license agreement they have with a company, where student work or assessment results are uploaded and stored. Some use that service to run data reports and are thrilled to share that it even “does data analysis.” Unfortunately, those well-intentioned individuals are missing the mark when it comes to a QAS.

A Quality Assurance System is really like the drivetrain of our car—without it we’d get nowhere, stuck along the side of the road. We’d know we had a problem, but without that drivetrain we may not know how to resolve our issue. We’d be wondering what to do next.

What a Quality Assurance System Isn’t

It’s important to remember that a Quality Assurance System isn’t a software program or a subscription-based website. It’s a well-planned and executed system by which institutions and individual programs monitor quality on key performance indicators. They then use insights gleaned from trendlines to make data-informed programmatic decisions.

Essential Components of a Healthy QAS

A healthy, solid quality assurance system requires a well-defined schema that involves looking at multiple data sources and being able to triangulate those data over time to look for patterns, trends, strengths, and weaknesses. And it shouldn’t just be one or two people reviewing data—there should be groups and advisory boards assigned to this task. Why? So steps can be taken to make improvements when the need arises.

High Quality Assessments


A well-functioning QAS requires using a blend of both proprietary and internally created high quality assessments. We know that data are only as good as the assessments themselves. Great care must be taken when creating key assessments to ensure that each measure what they are intended to measure (content validity) and that they see consistency in assessment results over multiple administrations (reliability). Surveys need to be created with a manageable number of questions, and items should be worded clearly. New assessments need to be piloted according to widely accepted protocols.

Real-Life Assessment Examples

Some examples of proprietary assessments that colleges and universities often use include the SAT, ACT, GRE, edTPA, Praxis, NCLEX, and so on. In other words, these are standardized high-stakes assessments that have been developed and road-tested by assessment development companies.

Internally created assessments, on the other hand, are those institutions create “in-house” for a variety of purposes. For example, it’s common for colleges to survey their students at the end of each semester to determine their satisfaction with their instructors, the quality of the food in the cafeteria, advising services, and so on. Faculty within programs also develop what they consider to be key assessments–perhaps 5-7 that are required by all students to monitor their skills development as they progress in a particular licensure track program. These are often cornerstone assessments in a select group of courses, and they can provide valuable insight regarding student performance as well as the quality of the program itself.

Stakeholder Input

A solid QAS depends on stakeholder input, both internal and external stakeholders. Faculty, student support staff, current students, graduates, and members of the community or business and industry should serve in advisory capacities. Each individual brings a unique set of experiences and perspectives to the table, and diversity of thought can enrich programs.

Real Life Stakeholder Examples

Internal stakeholders include current and past students, faculty members, academic advisors, and so on. External stakeholders are those on the outside of the college or university. They include employers, individuals who have graduated more than a year ago, members of relevant civic groups, and so on. It’s really important to garner the perspective of those who are from within the institution as well as those who are on the outside looking in.

The Ultimate Goal: Continuous Program Improvement

And finally, a well-functioning Quality Assurance System must enable institutions to make data-informed decisions with confidence, for the purpose of continuous program improvement. Staff must be able to identify specific areas of strength, as well as specific areas for growth and improvement. They need to know if an approach or a policy is working or not. And they need a leg to stand on when it comes to making programmatic changes. That leg needs to be grounded in high quality data. Having well-functioning Quality Assurance Systems will support colleges and universities in their accreditation efforts, state program approvals, and growth. They truly are the drivetrain of institutional effectiveness.


About the Author: A former public school teacher and college administrator, Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher provides consultative support to colleges and universities in quality assurance, accreditation, educator preparation and competency-based education. Specialty: Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).  She can be reached at: 

Top Photo Credit: Samuele Errico Piccarini on Unsplash 


Fostering Student Success: The Significance of Transition Points in Higher Education Programs

Transition Points


In the dynamic landscape of higher education, successful program completion involves more than just attending classes and earning credits. It requires a structured and purposeful journey through well-defined transition points or milestones. These markers delineate specific phases of progress that students must navigate to ensure they are well-prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. This is especially crucial in licensure-based programs like nursing and teacher education, where the sequential mastery of skills is paramount.

The Protective Structure of Transition Points

Transition points are not arbitrary hurdles; they are a safeguard, ensuring that students progress through a program in a planned and thoughtful manner. The structure serves to protect students and foster their success. It prevents them from signing up for an advanced level course before they have successfully completed foundational level work. Moreover, these gateways provide them with a chance to build their developing skills in key areas before engaging in field experiences. And, by adhering to established transition points, students are much more likely to graduate on time, pass licensure examinations, and get hired for a job in their chosen profession after graduation.

Key Criteria for Identifying Transition Points

Department chairs and faculty should carefully consider various criteria when determining the right transition points. For example:

Transition Points Checklist


A Transition Points Framework

To guide educators in implementing effective transition points, a customizable framework can be immensely beneficial. For instance, in educator preparation programs, a five-point model might include:

Transition Points


This framework acts as a roadmap, offering a detailed depiction of a student’s progression from matriculation to program completion. Each transition point represents a crucial phase, ensuring that students are adequately prepared before advancing to the next stage. As long as a student meets the stated expectations, the journey continues and they move ahead toward graduation. If the student fails to meet one or more expectations in a given stage, the institution implements a plan for remediation, additional support, or in some case, counseling out of the program.


Transition points are the linchpin of a successful higher education program, providing a structured path for students to navigate. Through careful consideration of key criteria and the implementation of a tailored framework, educators can guide students toward timely graduation, licensure success, and a seamless transition into their chosen professions. By prioritizing these markers, institutions not only protect the interests of their students but also contribute to the overall success and reputation of their programs.



About the Author: A former public school teacher and college administrator, Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher provides consultative support to colleges and universities in quality assurance, accreditation, educator preparation and competency-based education. Specialty: Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).  She can be reached at:


Top Photo Credit: Clay Banks on Unsplash 

Examples and Exemplars in Regulatory Spaces

Examples and Exemplars in Regulatory Space


Embarking on the journey of launching a new program at your college or university is an exciting endeavor, but the regulatory landscape can be a daunting terrain to navigate. Many college and university personnel find themselves grappling with uncertainty about what evidence to provide and how to demonstrate compliance with specific standards set by institutional or programmatic accreditors. In an era where higher education websites offer a plethora of examples, it’s crucial to understand the distinction between examples and exemplars when it comes to the regulatory space. While examples can serve as general guides, they should not be mistaken for perfect templates. Here I shed light on this crucial distinction and provide higher education staff with actionable tips for a smoother regulatory approval process.

Understanding the Difference Between Examples and Exemplars

Before delving into the tips, it’s important to clarify the difference between examples and exemplars when working in the regulatory space. Examples are instances of documents, reports, or data submitted by other institutions to accrediting bodies. They can serve as helpful references, offering insight into the types of information that might be required. On the other hand, exemplars are not just examples; they are models of excellence. Exemplars represent the gold standard, and assuming that any document submitted by another institution is flawless can lead to significant pitfalls. Recognizing this distinction is the first step toward a more informed and successful regulatory approval process.


Alternatives to Using Examples & Exemplars in Regulatory Work

Customization is Key

While examples can provide a starting point, it’s crucial to customize documents and evidence to align with the unique characteristics of your institution and the proposed program. Copying and pasting from examples might not capture the specific nuances and strengths of your institution, potentially leading to a misrepresentation of your capabilities.

Engage in Peer Collaboration

Instead of relying solely on online examples, consider engaging in collaborative efforts with peer institutions. Sharing insights, challenges, and successful strategies with institutions facing similar regulatory processes can offer a more nuanced understanding. Peer collaboration allows for the exchange of real-world experiences and promotes a collective learning environment.

Regularly Review and Update Documentation

The regulatory landscape evolves, and so should your documentation. Rather than relying solely on outdated examples, strive to stay abreast of changes in accreditation standards and requirements. Regularly review and update your documentation to reflect any new expectations, ensuring that your submission remains relevant and compliant.

Seek Guidance from Accreditation Experts

Most institutions have dedicated accreditation liaisons or experts who can provide valuable guidance. These individuals possess an in-depth understanding of accreditation standards and can offer insights tailored to your institution’s context. Consult with them regularly to ensure your documentation meets the necessary criteria and standards. That said, some colleges and universities don’t have the luxury of full-time compliance and accreditation experts on staff. On the other hand, there may not be anyone who’s had experience working with a particular state agency or accrediting body. In those cases, hiring a consultant can be a wise investment.

Use Examples Judiciously

Examples can be powerful tools when used judiciously. Rather than mirroring another institution’s document entirely, extract relevant concepts, structures, and approaches that align with your institution’s context. Adapting best practices from examples can enhance the quality of your submission without compromising authenticity.



In the realm of regulatory matters, the journey to program approval requires careful consideration, strategic planning, and a nuanced approach to documentation. While examples can serve as valuable guides, they should not be misconstrued as flawless templates. The key lies in understanding the unique needs of your institution and tailoring documentation accordingly. By following these tips, higher education staff can navigate the regulatory landscape with confidence, ensuring that their submissions stand out for their authenticity and compliance.



About the Author: A former public school teacher and college administrator, Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher provides consultative support to colleges and universities in quality assurance, accreditation, educator preparation and competency-based education. Specialty: Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).  She can be reached at:


Top Photo Credit: Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash 


Transforming Higher Education: The Power of Student Mentoring Programs



In the ever-evolving landscape of higher education, the quest for student success remains a central concern for colleges and universities across the United States. While academic advisors play a pivotal role in guiding students through their educational journey, a more personalized and intensive approach is required to meet the needs of at-risk students. This is where student mentoring programs step in. Here I explore the concept of student mentoring in higher education — delving into its benefits, potential drawbacks, and its significant role in enhancing institutional effectiveness and accreditation efforts.

Understanding the Role of a Student Mentor

In traditional academic advising, the primary focus is on helping students chart their academic paths and assisting with course registration. However, there exists a group of students who require a more hands-on and personalized approach. These students, often referred to as at-risk, may struggle with various aspects of their college experience, be it academic, financial, or personal. A student mentor is a specially trained individual who goes beyond the traditional academic advisor’s role.

A mentor typically:

  • Interacts with students regularly: A mentor engages with the student multiple times each month through various communication channels, including email, phone calls, text messages, virtual conferences, or in-person meetings. This frequent interaction helps build a strong support system for the student.
  • Acts as a liaison: A mentor serves as a bridge between the student and various university services. If a student encounters difficulties with financial aid applications, the mentor can either assist directly or connect the student with the appropriate staff in the Financial Aid office. Similarly, if a student is struggling academically, the mentor can facilitate tutoring services.
  • Monitors student progress: If a student begins to miss classes or falls behind in their coursework, the mentor plays a proactive role in reaching out to the student. They work with the student to identify the reasons for their struggles and collaboratively develop a plan for academic success.

The Benefits of a Strong Mentoring Model

The traditional academic advising model often relies on students seeking assistance, which may not be sufficient for at-risk students. However, a strong mentorship model, where a mentor is assigned to a student upon matriculation and remains with them until graduation, offers numerous advantages:

  • Improved Student Success: A mentor’s consistent support and guidance significantly contribute to student success. At-risk students often face challenges that can derail their academic progress, and a mentor helps address these issues promptly, leading to higher achievement and improved GPA.
  • Enhanced Student Retention: By closely monitoring a student’s academic journey, a mentor can identify and address issues that may lead to dropouts. This proactive approach contributes to higher retention rates, which is a key concern for colleges and universities.
  • Greater Student Satisfaction: The personal connection and support provided by mentors lead to increased student satisfaction. Knowing there is someone dedicated to their success boosts students’ morale and confidence.
  • Improved Institutional Effectiveness: A well-structured mentorship program aligns with institutional effectiveness goals. It provides a systematic approach to monitor, support, and measure student success, helping institutions meet accreditation standards more effectively.
  • Accreditation Compliance: Accreditation bodies, such as the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), the Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE), and the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), emphasize the importance of demonstrating support for student success. A strong mentorship program positions institutions to meet these requirements effectively.

Challenges and Drawbacks to a Mentoring Model

While student mentoring programs offer immense benefits, there are challenges and potential drawbacks that institutions need to consider:

  • Financial Costs: Implementing a mentorship program requires hiring and training mentors, which can strain an institution’s budget. However, the long-term benefits often outweigh the initial costs.
  • Workload for Mentors: Mentors must be dedicated and properly trained to address a wide range of student needs. The workload can be intensive, and managing a caseload of at-risk students requires effective time management and organizational skills.
  • Scalability: Scaling a mentorship program to accommodate a growing student population can be challenging. Institutions must carefully plan and allocate resources to ensure the program’s success as the student body expands.
  • Cultural Shift: Shifting from a traditional academic advising model to a mentorship program may require a cultural shift within the institution. Faculty, staff, and students need to adapt to the new approach.

Practical Steps for Implementing a Student Mentorship Program

To successfully implement a student mentorship program in your institution, consider the following practical steps:

  • Assess Student Needs: Identify the specific needs of your student population. Conduct surveys, focus groups, and data analysis to understand the challenges at-risk students face.
  • Define Mentor Roles: Clearly outline the roles and responsibilities of mentors. Determine how they will interact with students and which services they will connect students with.
  • Mentor Training: Invest in comprehensive training for mentors, covering areas such as academic support, communication skills, and campus resources. Training is crucial for ensuring mentors are well-prepared to assist students effectively.
  • Integration with Existing Services: Ensure seamless integration with existing university services, such as academic advising, financial aid, and tutoring. Mentors should collaborate with these services to provide holistic support.
  • Data and Monitoring: Implement a data-driven approach to monitor the program’s impact on student success. Regularly assess the program’s effectiveness and make adjustments as needed.
  • Student Outreach: Promote the mentorship program to incoming students and engage them from day one. Assign mentors to students upon matriculation to establish a strong support system from the start.
  • Resources Allocation: Allocate necessary resources, both in terms of personnel and budget, to support the program. Consider seeking external funding sources if needed.


In the quest for higher education excellence and student success, student mentoring programs play a pivotal role. These programs provide a more personalized, proactive, and comprehensive approach to supporting at-risk students, ultimately leading to improved retention, student satisfaction, and academic success. While there are financial and logistical challenges, the long-term benefits, including compliance with accreditation standards and institutional effectiveness goals, make student mentoring a worthwhile investment for colleges and universities.

In a rapidly changing higher education landscape, the transformational power of student mentoring programs can be the catalyst for lasting change, ensuring that all students have the opportunity to thrive and succeed in their academic pursuits.


About the Author: A former public school teacher and college administrator, Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher provides consultative support to colleges and universities in quality assurance, accreditation, educator preparation and competency-based education. Specialty: Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).  She can be reached at:

Top Photo Credit:  Monica Melton on Unsplash

The Pillars of Data Consistency: Inter-Rater Reliability, Internal Consistency, and Consensus Building

data consistency


Accreditation in higher education is like the North Star guiding the way for colleges and universities. It ensures institutions maintain the highest standards of educational quality. Yet, for higher education professionals responsible for completing this work, the journey is not without its challenges. One of the most critical challenges they face is ensuring the data consistency, or reliability, of key assessments. This is why inter-rater reliability, internal consistency, and consensus building serve as some of the bedrocks of data-informed decision making. As the gatekeepers of quality assurance, higher education professionals should possess a working knowledge of these concepts. Below, I explain some basic concepts of inter-rater reliability, internal consistency, and consensus building:

Inter-Rater Reliability

What it is: Inter-rater reliability assesses the degree of agreement or consistency between different people (raters, observers, assessors) when they are independently evaluating or scoring the same data or assessments.

Example: Imagine you have a group of teachers who are grading student essays. Inter-rater reliability measures how consistently these teachers assign grades. If two different teachers grade the same essay and their scores are very close, it indicates high inter-rater reliability. A similar example would be in an art competition, where multiple judges independently evaluate artworks based on criteria like composition, technique, and creativity. Inter-rater reliability is vital to ensure that artworks are judged consistently. If two judges consistently award high scores to the same painting, it demonstrates reliable evaluation in the competition.

Importance in Accreditation: In an educational context, it’s crucial to ensure that assessments are scored consistently, especially when accreditation bodies are evaluating the quality of education. This ensures fairness and objectivity in the assessment process.

Internal Consistency

What it is: Internal consistency assesses the reliability of a measurement tool or assessment by examining how well the different items or questions within that tool are related to each other.

Example: Think about a survey that asks multiple questions about the same topic. Internal consistency measures whether these questions consistently capture the same concept. For example, let’s say a teacher education program uses an employer satisfaction survey with multiple questions to evaluate various aspects of its program. Internal consistency ensures that questions related to a specific aspect (e.g., classroom management) yield consistent responses. If employers consistently rate the program quality highly across several related questions, it reflects high internal consistency in the survey.

Importance in Accreditation: When colleges and universities use assessment tools, they need to ensure that the questions within these tools are reliable. High internal consistency indicates that the questions are measuring the same construct consistently, which is important for accurate data in accreditation.

Consensus Building

What it is: Consensus building refers to the process of reaching agreement or alignment among different stakeholders or experts on a particular issue, decision, or evaluation.

Example: In an academic context, when faculty members and administrators come together to determine the learning outcomes for a program, they engage in consensus building. This involves discussions, feedback, and negotiation to establish common goals and expectations. Another example might be within the context of institutional accreditation, where an institution’s leadership, faculty, and stakeholders engage in consensus building when establishing long-term strategic goals and priorities. This process involves extensive dialogue and agreement on the institution’s mission, vision, and the strategies needed to achieve them.

Importance in Accreditation: Accreditation often involves multiple parties, such as faculty, administrators, and external accreditors. Consensus building is crucial to ensure that everyone involved agrees on the criteria, standards, and assessment methods. It fosters transparency and a shared understanding of what needs to be achieved.


In summary, inter-rater reliability focuses on the agreement between different evaluators, internal consistency assesses the reliability of assessment questions or items, and consensus building is about reaching agreement among stakeholders. All three are essential in ensuring that data used in the accreditation process is trustworthy, fair, and reflects the true quality of the institution’s educational programs.


About the Author: A former public school teacher and college administrator, Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher provides consultative support to colleges and universities in quality assurance, accreditation, educator preparation and competency-based education. Specialty: Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).  She can be reached at: 

Top Photo Credit: Markus Spiske on Unsplash 

Persistence and Retention in Higher Education

Persistence and Retention Word Cloud

In higher education, “persistence to graduation” and “retention” are related but distinct terms that are often used to measure and analyze student progress and institutional effectiveness. College and university personnel encounter them with working on institutional or programmatic accreditation efforts. These are confusing terms that are sometimes used interchangeably, and yet they are not synonymous.

For example, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) makes a distinction in its Teaching and Learning: Evaluation and Improvement (Criterion 4C).  In its Guiding Principle 2 (Standard IV), the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) requires member institutions to “…commit to student retention, persistence, completion, and success through a coherent and effective support system…”

Here’s a very quick overview of the difference between retention and persistence:


Retention refers to the percentage of students who continue their enrollment at the same institution from one academic year to the next. It measures how many students remain at the same college or university without transferring or dropping out.

Retention is primarily concerned with keeping students within the institution they initially enrolled in.


Persistence, on the other hand, is a broader term that encompasses a student’s continuous pursuit of a degree or educational goal. It measures whether a student is consistently working toward completing their program or degree, regardless of whether they stay at the same institution or transfer.

Persistence focuses on the overall progress of a student toward their educational goal, which can involve transferring to another institution, taking breaks, or pursuing part-time studies.

The Bottom Line

In summary, while both persistence and retention are crucial metrics in higher education, they differ in focus and scope:

Retention is concerned with students staying at the same institution and measures institutional success in keeping students from leaving.

Persistence is concerned with students continuously working toward their educational goals, which may include transferring to other institutions, taking breaks, or pursuing part-time studies.

Higher education institutions and accreditation bodies use these terms to assess student success and institutional performance, with the goal of improving graduation rates and the overall quality of education. Both are important to quality assurance but are determined by different data.


About the Author: A former public school teacher and college administrator, Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher provides consultative support to colleges and universities in quality assurance, accreditation, educator preparation and competency-based education. Specialty: Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).  She can be reached at:


Leveraging Stakeholder Involvement for Higher Education Quality Assurance

Stakeholder Group Meeting

In the realm of higher education, quality assurance and institutional effectiveness are paramount. Internal and external stakeholder groups, including students, faculty, alumni, employers, and community members play a pivotal role in this process. Their active involvement not only ensures transparency but also significantly contributes to accreditation efforts.

It seems that nearly everyone in higher education is aware of the need for stakeholder involvement–or say they are–but very few actually use it effectively. In this post, I delve into the importance of stakeholder involvement in higher education and provide some practical advice for colleges and universities to harness it effectively.

Why Stakeholder Involvement Is Vital

Engaging stakeholders brings diverse perspectives and valuable insights to the forefront. Here’s why their involvement is critical:

Enhanced Accountability

Stakeholder involvement fosters transparency and accountability within institutions. It ensures that decisions align with the needs and expectations of those they serve.  As members of the higher education community, we often develop “tunnel vision” and become so entrenched in our everyday institutional bubble that it’s possible to lose our perspective. As a result, we sometimes don’t consider things from a lens outside of our own. That’s where stakeholder groups can be so valuable to the accountability process.

Continuous Program Improvement

Regular feedback from stakeholders helps colleges and universities identify areas for enhancement. This feedback loop leads to ongoing program improvements, benefiting students and the broader community.  To that end, institutional accreditor Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) prompts university personnel to ensure that appropriate internal and external constituents and stakeholders are involved in the planning and evaluation process as part of their overall institutional planning and effectiveness model.

Accreditation Support

Accrediting bodies often require evidence of stakeholder involvement. Comprehensive records of these interactions streamline the accreditation process and bolster institutional credibility. That doesn’t mean, however, that we should just create an advisory board of some kind in name only. Nor should we hold our obligatory annual meetings for the purpose of simply checking a box and moving on. If institutions build a culture of continuous program improvement rather than a culture of compliance, they will realize just how important stakeholders can be to their regulatory success.

Initiating and Optimizing Stakeholder Involvement

Here are practical steps for college and university personnel to initiate and optimize stakeholder involvement:

Identify Your Key Stakeholders

Identify the primary internal and external stakeholders relevant to your institution, including students, part-time and full-time faculty, alumni, employers, business and industry representatives, and community organizations. Students, of course, should be viewed as the most critical stakeholder in higher education. To underscore the importance of this group, the Higher Learning Commission adopted it as Goal #1 in its Evolve 2025: Vision, Goals, and Action Steps.  It’s essential to select individuals who genuinely want to help you improve your institution. It’s also important to build a cadre of stakeholders who represent a variety of backgrounds and perspectives.

Set Clear Objectives

Determine the specific outcomes you need from your stakeholder groups. Are you seeking input on curriculum development, program evaluation, or community engagement initiatives? Having a clear purpose guides your efforts. For example, in its 2020 Guiding Principles and Standards for Business Accreditation, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) specifies that stakeholders should play a central role in developing and implementing a program’s strategic plan, in its scholarship, and in its quality assurance system.

Establish Communication Channels

Create multiple communication avenues with stakeholders, such as surveys, focus groups, advisory committees, and regular meetings. Ensure these channels are accessible and user-friendly. Maintaining effective communication and collaboration with stakeholder groups is considered to be part of an essential team of administrators that brings together and allocates resources to accomplish institutional goals, according to the Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE), an accreditor for faith-based institutions.

Meet Regularly

Meeting with stakeholders at least once a year is crucial. Consider more frequent interactions, such as quarterly or semi-annual meetings, to maintain engagement. Establishing positive relationships takes time, and this requires seeing stakeholders more than just once per year. Some institutions invite stakeholders to a monthly virtual meeting, supported by one or two onsite meetings. To encourage attendance and keep the momentum going, consider the value of variety: Invite students to come and speak or interact with advisory board members. Don’t overdo it but try to include at least one fun icebreaker or activity in each meeting. And above all else: Whenever possible, provide food. Educators have known about this for many years, and it’s still true today: If you feed them, they will come. 

Share Data

Share relevant data and information with stakeholders, including enrollment figures, student achievement data, and institutional goals. Providing context allows stakeholders to make informed recommendations. And don’t just sugarcoat everything–be real with your stakeholders. If you can’t trust them with data that may be less than desirable, why are they on your advisory board?

Establish a Positive Environment

Foster an open and inclusive environment where stakeholders feel valued and heard. Encourage constructive feedback and respect dissenting opinions. Hopefully, each member of the stakeholder group was selected with care because of the value they bring to the conversation. Assuming that’s the case, each person should walk away from meetings feeling as though their presence and participation mattered. It’s the job of the institutional leader to ensure that happens.

Create a Documentation Framework

Keep detailed records of stakeholder interactions, including meeting agendas, minutes, recommendations, and action items. These records serve as tangible evidence for accreditation purposes. We’ve all heard the saying, “If there’s no photo, it didn’t happen!” The same thinking applies with stakeholder meetings. If there’s no detailed record, it’s really the same as a meeting never taking place. All documents should contain enough details that someone outside the institution (such as an accreditor) could review them and understand who the members are, what the group’s purpose is, how often they meet, what they do, and how the institution’s personnel act on their recommendations.  Pro tip: Create a standard template for meeting agendas and minutes, and store all documents in a secure, university-approved cloud platform in an organized manner. Never store these items on a single user’s laptop.

Using Stakeholder Involvement Effectively

Simply hosting an annual stakeholder meeting to check off a compliance box isn’t good enough. Higher education personnel must weave their input into all facets of their institutional or programmatic structure.  The importance of this is emphasized by the 2023 standards adopted by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, where stakeholder involvement is featured in multiple standards. To maximize the benefits of stakeholder involvement, I recommend following these guidelines:

Act on Feedback

Don’t just collect feedback; act on it. Use stakeholder recommendations to drive meaningful change within your institution, demonstrating a commitment to improvement. For example, educator preparation accreditors such as the Association for Advancing Quality in Educator Preparation (AAQEP) and the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) both have expectations for utilizing input from teacher candidates, alumni, employers, P-12 partners, and the like.

Evaluate Impact

Regularly assess the impact of changes made based on stakeholder feedback to ensure ongoing positive progress. This is an essential component to your quality assurance system and to a continuous program improvement model. Advancing academic quality and continuous improvement are at the core of accreditation, according to the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

Engage Diverse Voices

Ensure your stakeholder group represents a diverse range of perspectives, leading to more innovative and well-rounded solutions. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) emphasizes the need for multiple voices to be heard in its more recent set of Core Competences for Professional Nursing Education.

Communicate Outcomes

Keep stakeholders informed about the outcomes of their input. Sharing how their feedback has shaped decisions and improvements underscores the value of their involvement. This goes back to helping all members feel valued, heard, and respected. It also renews their commitment to your organization and their role in advancing institutional goals.

Maintain an Active Feedback Loop

Continuously refine your stakeholder involvement processes based on feedback to make the collaboration more effective and efficient. In other words, the model should be organic and evolve over time as needs change. The mission, vision, and objectives of stakeholder groups should be revisited periodically in order to gain maximum benefit.


Incorporating stakeholder involvement into higher education quality assurance is not just a best practice; it’s a necessity. By actively engaging stakeholders, colleges and universities can ensure their programs remain effective, relevant, and aligned with community needs. Moreover, documenting these interactions provides valuable evidence for accreditation, further enhancing institutional credibility.


About the Author: A former public school teacher and college administrator, Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher provides consultative support to colleges and universities in quality assurance, accreditation, educator preparation and competency-based education. Specialty: Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).  She can be reached at: 

Top Photo Credit: Campaign Creators on Unsplash 


Consultants Aren’t Necessary. Until They Are.

  • “We really didn’t think we needed a consultant.”
  • “We thought we could handle it in-house.”
  • “We just didn’t have the money to pay for a consultant.” 
  • “We’re a small institution. Surely ____ will take that into consideration during the site visit.” 

I’d venture a guess that very few higher education institutions build external consulting fees into their annual budgets. Administrators make sure all the essentials are covered, such as hiring faculty and staff, facility and grounds maintenance, advertising, travel, IT infrastructure, legal fees, and the like. But hardly any ever plan for needing to hire a consultant to help with compliance and accreditation matters. 

That’s because higher education administrators never think they need outside guidance. Until they realize that they do. 

And many times, they come to this realization very late in the accreditation game. I’ve received calls from frantic department chairs, deans, and presidents whose anxiety you could literally feel through the phone. 

They thought they had things under control, and then something happened that threw their plans out of orbit. Over the years, I’ve been brought in when a key faculty member, assessment coordinator, or department chair has taken a job with another university. I’ve also been called when the institution’s dean had been incompetent for many years and executive leaders allowed him to stay in that position. Those leaders thought the path of least resistance was to stay the course and it worked for a while with others providing cover, but then they discovered by accident that the institution was scheduled for a national accreditation site review in a few months. 

I’ve also been called on to help when the horse has already left the stall – when an institution actually had lost their accreditation and by default, their state program approval. They had students enrolled in multiple programs, but were unable to recommend them for state licensure because they were no longer authorized to do so. 

As one might imagine, those situations are messy. They are uncomfortable. But these are when an experienced consultant is well worth their fee. Of course, no consultant can ever guarantee a positive end result–that’s impossible–but someone with the right skill set and expertise can get an institution back on solid footing and headed back in the right direction. 

CHEA fellow Rachel Smith recently penned a thoughtful piece that presents the benefits and drawbacks of hiring independent contractors. She also offers some alternatives for higher education administrators to consider if for whatever reason a paid consultant just isn’t feasible. It’s a useful guide to keep handy. 

In this ever-changing landscape of state, regional, and national regulations, it can be a comfort to know that when the chips are down and the stakes are high, an experienced consultant’s fees can be money well spent. 


About the Author: A former public school teacher and college administrator, Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher provides consultative support to colleges and universities in quality assurance, accreditation, educator preparation and competency-based education. Specialty: Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).  She can be reached at:


Top Graphic Credit:  Dan Dimmock on Unsplash

Using Data to Tell Your Story


With a few exceptions, staff from all colleges and universities use data to complete regulatory compliance and accreditation work on a regular basis. Much of the time these tasks are routine, and some might say, mundane. Once programs are approved, staff typically only need to submit an annual report to a state department of education or accrediting body unless the institution wants to make major changes such as add new programs or satellite campus, change to a different educational model, and so on.

And then typically every 7-10 years a program or institution must reaffirm their program approval or accreditation. That process is much more complex than the work completed on an annual basis.

Regardless of whether an institution is simply completing its annual work or if they are reaffirming its accreditation, all strategic decisions must be informed or guided by data. Many institutions seem to struggle in this area but there are some helpful practices based on my experiences over the years:

Tips for Using Data to Tell Your Story

  • Know exactly what question(s) you are expecting to answer from your assessment data or other pieces of evidence. If you don’t know the question(s), how can you know you can provide the information accreditors are looking for?
  • Be selective when it comes to which assessments you will use. Choose a set of key assessments that will inform your decision making over time, and then make strategic decisions based on data trend lines. In other words, avoid the “kitchen sink” approach when it comes to assessments and pieces of evidence in general. Less is more, as long as you choose your sources carefully.
  • Make sure the assessments you use for accreditation purposes are of high quality. If they are proprietary instruments, that’s a plus because the legwork of determining elements such as validity and reliability has already been done for you. If you have created one or more instruments in-house, you must ensure their quality in order to yield accurate, consistent results over time. I talked about validity and reliability in previous articles. If you don’t make sure you are using high-quality assessments, you can’t draw conclusions about their data with any confidence. As a result, you can’t really use those instruments as part of your continuous program improvement process.
  • Take the time to analyze your data and try to “wring out” all those little nuggets of information they can provide. At a minimum, be sure to provide basic statistical information (i.e., N, mean, median, mode, standard deviation, range). What story are those data trying to tell you within the context of one or more regulatory standards?
  • Present the data in different ways. For example, disaggregate per program or per satellite campus as well as aggregate it as a whole program or whole institution.
  • Include charts and graphs that will help explain the data visually. For example, portraying data trends through line graphs or bar graphs can be helpful for comparing a program’s licensure exam performance against counterparts from across the state, or satellite campuses with the main campus.
  • Write a narrative that “tells a story” based on key assessment data. Use these data as supporting pieces of evidence in a self-study report. Narratives should fully answer what’s being asked in a standard, but they should be written clearly and concisely. In other words, provide enough information, but don’t provide more than what’s being asked for.

Let’s face it: Compliance and accreditation work can be tricky and quite complex. But using data from high-quality assessments can be incredibly helpful in “telling your story” to state agencies and accrediting bodies.


About the Author: A former public school teacher and college administrator, Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher provides consultative support to colleges and universities in quality assurance, accreditation, educator preparation and competency-based education. Specialty: Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).  She can be reached at:

Top Photo Credit: Markus Winkler on Unsplash 

Inter-rater Reliability Ensures Consistency

interrater reliability

In a previous article, we focused on determining content validity using the Lawshe method when gauging the quality of an assessment that’s been developed “in-house.” As a reminder, content validity pertains to how well each item measures what it’s intended to measure and the Lawshe method determines the extent to which each item is necessary and appropriate for the intended group of test takers. In this piece, we’ll zero in on inter-rater reliability.

Internally Created Assessments Often Lack Quality Control

Many colleges and universities use a combination of assessments to measure their success. This is particularly true when it comes to accreditation and the process of continuous program improvement. Some of these assessments are proprietary, meaning that they were created externally—typically by a state department of education or an assessment development company. Other assessments are internally created, meaning that they were created by faculty and staff inside the institution. Proprietary assessments have been tested for quality control relative to quality indicators such as validity and reliability. However, it’s common for institutional staff to confirm these elements in the assessments that are created in-house. In many cases, a department head determines they need an additional data source and so they tap the shoulder of faculty members to quickly create something they think will suffice. After a quick review, the instrument is approved and goes “live” without piloting or additional quality control checks.

Skipping these important quality control methods can wreak havoc later on, when an institution attempts to pull data and use it for accreditation or other regulatory purposes. Just as a car will only run well when its tank is filled with the right kind of fuel, data are only as good as the assessment itself. Without reliable data to that will yield consistent results over multiple administrations, it’s nearly impossible to draw conclusions and make programmatic decisions with confidence.

Inter-rater Reliability

One quality indicator that’s often overlooked is inter-rater reliability. In a nutshell, this is a fancy way of saying that an assessment will yield consistent results over multiple administrations by multiple evaluators. We most often see this used in conjunction with a performance-based assessment such as a rubric, where faculty or clinical supervisors go into the field to observe and evaluate the performance of a teacher candidate, a nursing student, counseling student, and so on. A rubric could also be used to evaluate a student’s professional dispositions at key intervals in a program, course projects, and the like.

In most instances, a program is large enough to have more than one clinical supervisor or faculty member in a given course who observe and evaluate student performance. When that happens, it’s extremely important that each evaluator rates student performance through a common lens. If for example one evaluator rates student performance quite high or quite low in key areas, it can skew data dramatically. Not only is this grading inconsistency unfair to students but it’s also highly problematic for institutions that are trying to make data-informed decisions as part of their continuous program improvement model. Thus, we must determine inter-rater reliability.


Using Percent Paired Agreement to Determine Inter-rater Reliability

One common way to determine inter-rater reliability is through the percent paired agreement method. It’s actually the simplest way to say with confidence that supervisors or faculty members who evaluate student performance based on the same instrument will rate them similarly and consistently over time. Here are the basic steps involved in determining inter-rater reliability using the percent paired agreement method:

Define the behavior or performance to be assessed: The first step is to define precisely what behavior or performance is to be assessed. For example, if the assessment is of a student’s writing ability, assessors must agree on what aspects of writing to evaluate, such as grammar, structure, and coherence as well as any specific emphasis or weight should be given to specific criteria categories. This is often already decided when the rubric is being created.

Select the raters: Next, select the clinical supervisors or faculty members who will assess the behavior or performance. It is important to choose evaluators who are trained in the assessment process and who have sufficient knowledge and experience to assess the behavior or performance accurately. Having two raters for each item is ideal—hence the name paired agreement.

Assign samples to each rater for review: Assign a sample of rubrics to each evaluator for independent evaluation. The sample size should be large enough to ensure statistical significance and meaningful results. For example, it may be helpful to pull work samples from 10% of the entire student body in a given class for this exercise, if there are 100 students in the group. The samples should either be random, or representative of all levels of performance (high, medium, low).

Compare results: Compare the results of each evaluator’s ratings of the same performance indicators using a simple coding system. For each item where raters agree, code it with a 1. For each item where raters disagree, code it with a 0. This is called an exact paired agreement, which I recommend over an adjacent paired agreement. In my opinion, the more precise we can be the better.

Calculate the inter-rater reliability score: Calculate the inter-rater reliability score based on the level of agreement between the raters. A high score indicates a high level of agreement between the raters, while a low score indicates a low level of agreement. The number of agreements between the two raters is then divided by the total number of items, and this number is multiplied by 100 to express it as a percentage. For example, if two raters independently score 10 items, and they agree on 8 of the items, then their inter-rater reliability would be 80%. This means that the two raters were consistent in their scoring 80% of the time.

Interpret the results: Finally, interpret the results to determine whether the assessment is reliable within the context of paired agreement. Of course, 100% is optimal but the goal should be to achieve a paired agreement of 80% or higher for each item. If the inter-rater reliability score is high, it indicates that the data harvested from that assessment is likely to be reliable and consistent over multiple administrations. If the score is low, it suggests that those items on the assessment need to be revised, or that additional evaluator training is necessary to ensure greater consistency.

Like determining content validity using Lawshe, the percent paired agreement method in determining inter-rater reliability is straightforward and practical. By following these steps, higher education faculty and staff can use the data from internally created assessments with confidence as part of their continuous program improvement efforts.


About the Author: A former public school teacher and college administrator, Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher provides consultative support to colleges and universities in quality assurance, accreditation, educator preparation and competency-based education. Specialty: Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).  She can be reached at:


The Path to Academic Quality

academic quality

All colleges and universities want their students to succeed. That requires offering current, relevant, and robust programs. But what is the path to academic quality? How can faculty and administrators know for sure that what they are offering is meeting the needs of students? Here are five recommendations:

Embrace Technology: With the advancement of technology, universities can adopt innovative approaches for data collection, analysis, and program evaluation. For instance, leveraging artificial intelligence to analyze large data sets can help identify patterns and trends that may not be apparent with traditional methods. This can lead to more insightful recommendations for program improvement.

Create a Culture of Continuous Improvement: The culture of the university should be centered around continuous improvement. All stakeholders should be encouraged to provide feedback on the programs regularly. This feedback should be analyzed and acted upon to ensure that the programs are up-to-date, relevant, and of high quality.

Involve All Stakeholders: All stakeholders, including faculty, students, alumni, industry professionals, and accrediting agencies, should be involved in the quality assurance process. Each of these groups can offer unique perspectives and insights that can help improve the academic programs.

Develop Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): KPIs are essential metrics used to measure the success of an academic program. These metrics can include student outcomes, faculty satisfaction, and retention rates. Universities can leverage KPIs to monitor and improve the quality of their programs continually.

Invest in Faculty Development: Faculty members play a crucial role in program quality. Therefore, universities should invest in their professional development to ensure they are equipped with the latest knowledge and skills to deliver quality instruction. By providing faculty with ongoing professional development opportunities, universities can enhance program quality and ensure that students receive a high-quality education.

By having a comprehensive quality assurance system, colleges and universities can be assured that they are on the right path to academic quality.


About the Author: A former public school teacher and college administrator, Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher provides consultative support to colleges and universities in quality assurance, accreditation, educator preparation and competency-based education. Specialty: Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).  She can be reached at:

Top Photo Credit: Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash 

Exceptional Academic Programs

Academic Programs

Exceptional Academic Programs.

If you look at their mission statements, nearly all colleges and universities strive to serve students and support their success through innovation and high-quality course offerings. But how do they know what they offer is truly exceptional? Here are five innovative tips for how colleges and universities can ensure that they have outstanding academic programs through their quality assurance system:

Focus on student learning outcomes: The ultimate goal of any academic program is to help students learn and grow. To ensure that your programs are meeting this goal, it’s important to focus on student learning outcomes. This means regularly collecting data on student learning, such as grades, test scores, and surveys of student satisfaction. You can then use this data to identify areas where your programs are succeeding and areas where they could be improved.

Engage in continuous improvement: Quality assurance is not a one-time event. It’s an ongoing process of collecting data, analyzing it, and making changes to improve student learning. To be successful, you need to create a culture of continuous improvement within your institution. This means encouraging faculty and staff to be constantly looking for ways to improve their teaching and learning practices.

Use data to drive decision-making: The data you collect through your quality assurance system can be a valuable tool for making decisions about your academic programs. For example, if you find that students are struggling in a particular course, you can use this information to make changes to the course content or delivery. Or, if you find that a particular program is not meeting the needs of its students, you can use this information to make changes to the program or to discontinue it altogether.

Involve all stakeholders: Quality assurance is not just about the faculty and staff who teach the courses. It’s also about the students who take the courses, the alumni who graduate from the programs, and the employers who hire the graduates. To be successful, you need to involve all of these stakeholders in your quality assurance process. This means getting their input on the goals of your programs, the data you collect, and the changes you make.

Be transparent: Quality assurance should be an open and transparent process. This means sharing your data and findings with all stakeholders, including students, faculty, staff, alumni, and employers. It also means being willing to discuss the challenges you face and the changes you make to improve your programs.

By following these tips, higher education personnel can create a quality assurance system that will help ensure that the academic programs they offer are truly exceptional.


About the Author: A former public school teacher and college administrator, Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher provides consultative support to colleges and universities in quality assurance, accreditation, educator preparation and competency-based education. Specialty: Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).  She can be reached at:

Top Photo Credit: Element5 Digital on Unsplash 

Survey: Nonprofit vs. For-Profit Colleges

nonprofit vs. for-profit college

A fascinating survey has just been released by Public Agenda, a nonprofit research and public engagement firm. Investigators collected data from a representative sample of graduates from both nonprofit and for-profit colleges. They received a total of 413 responses, including 217 nonprofit online alumni and 169 for-profit online alumni. Questions focused on respondents’ at-large perceptions about their chosen institution and were not program-specific.

Major Takeaways

There were three big takeaways for me in the survey results:

  • Affordability, accreditation, and whether or not their credits would transfer played more of a role in choosing a college for nonprofit alumni than for graduates of for-profit programs, the survey found.
  • The only factor in which for-profits exceeded nonprofits was providing hands-on financial aid application support to students.
  • About half of nonprofit online alumni (52 percent) enrolled in college in order to get ahead in their current job, compared to 25 percent of for-profit online alumni.

Survey Leads to More Questions

This leads me to ponder some additional questions to consider:

  • Were students who chose a for-profit college so enamored by the personalized, hands-on support in securing financial aid that the institution’s accreditation status became less important?
  • Related, did all of attention they received from the for-profit institution overshadow the affordability factor?
  • Why didn’t those choosing a for-profit institution consider transfer credit policies when making their decision where to attend college? Was this the result of a “hard sell” approach from for-profit enrollment counselors, or some other reason?
  • Survey data indicate twice as many students who chose a nonprofit institution were already employed as those who chose for-profit institution. Does this suggest that for-profits may be targeting and recruiting prospective students who are already underemployed, less financially secure, and thus potentially more receptive to the personalized financial aid assistance they receive?
  • Would survey results be consistent if disaggregated by academic program?
  • If nonprofit institutions stepped up their game and provided more direct support in the financial aid application process, would this further diminish the appeal that for-profits hold?

More Research Needed

The higher education community needs to make data-informed decisions about how best to serve students.  It would be great to see institutions include formalized research in annual goals as part of their strategic plan. Anecdotal information abounds, but there doesn’t appear to be a repository for quality research that compares the nonprofit vs. for-profit space. It’s time we made that happen.


About the Author: A former public school teacher and college administrator, Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher provides consultative support to colleges and universities in quality assurance, accreditation, educator preparation and competency-based education. Specialty: Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).  She can be reached at:


Top Graphic Credit:




Competency-Based Education: One Key to Higher Ed’s Future

higher education

Education writer and administrator Matt Reed recently published a review of a recent book that focuses on the uncertain future of United States higher education. Published by Johns Hopkins University Press, The Great Upheaval provides a comprehensive examination of the institution of higher education. Authors Arthur Levine and Scott Van Pelt successfully mesh historical foundations with implications for the role that our colleges and universities will play over the next several decades. 

Something Reed zeroed in on caught my eye. As a consultant who supports institutions in both accreditation and competency-based education, I was intrigued that he noted the implications for both in a single observation: 

“The most intriguing prediction, to my mind, was around accreditation. They predict that the object of accreditation will shift from the institution to the student, with something like accreditors verifying that students have achieved certain defined competencies. Where they achieved them is much less important.”

This is spot on. In years past, the traditional model of post-secondary teaching and learning was established and unquestioned. Faculty taught from a lectern at the front of a classroom. We “imparted our knowledge” to students in the form of lectures. They came to class, sat passively feverishly taking notes, and regurgitated what they had heard in lectures on an exam. 

Exams comprised what were typically low-level objective items with a predominant blend of true/false, fill-in-the-bubble or short essay questions. In many cases, they were scored by machine for convenience. Student grades were based on attending class and passing exams. There was never any assurance that students were actually learning on a deep level. In other words, as long as they played by the rules, they progressed in their program and eventually graduated. 

Traditional Regulatory Oversight

Accrediting bodies have embraced that traditional educational model. Credits were assigned according to the Carnegie unit. Course content was easily understood by reviewing a course description or syllabus. Institutional quality was measured by metrics such as faculty qualifications and scholarly activity; student retention; and low student loan default rates.

While these factors are each important there is one metric that’s been mostly overlooked: To what extent are students actually learning? Enter the competency-based education (CBE) model.

Competency-Based Education (CBE)

This approach to teaching and learning has gained traction over the past decade. I’ve written on CBE several times before. As I explained in my piece The Time Has Come for Competency-Based Education

Competency-based education isn’t an easier way to learn or to earn a college degree–it’s just different.

With this model, teaching and learning are completely different from that of traditional classrooms. Students must actually demonstrate what they know and are able to do against a set of standards-based, measurable competencies. Faculty serve more as mentors and learning resources, as opposed to providing direct instruction. CBE requires everyone – students, faculty, and departmental staff to think very differently. 

In order to survive and thrive, I really do believe that we will see a greater emphasis from regulatory agencies on measurable student learning. Authors Levine and Van Pelt spoke to this in their book. This transition will require institutions to critically reexamine their long-held practices and likely make programmatic and infrastructure modifications. Some will be up to the challenge. They will gradually start building a competency-based design lean heavily toward making data-informed decisions. Sadly, other higher education institutions will not make this transition, from either a lack of desire or a lack of know-how. Those institutions that cannot adopt a more student-centric model will fail. 


About the Author: A former public school teacher and college administrator, Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher provides consultative support to colleges and universities in quality assurance, accreditation, educator preparation and competency-based education. Specialty: Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).  She can be reached at:

Top Graphic Credit: Wikimedia Commons


Gainful Employment: The Saga Continues

Gainful Employment Rule

The Gainful Employment Rule is back in the headlines, at least within the higher education sphere. According to a fact sheet provided by the Institute for College Access & Success (ICAS), the current Higher Education Act requires that all career education programs receiving federal student aid — many of which are for-profit institutions —  “prepare students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation.” 

Watching all the changes connected to this Rule has been akin to watching a tennis match over the past six years, and it looks like there’s more to come. 

Obama Enacts Gainful Employment Rule

In 2015, the Obama Administration enacted the Gainful Employment Rule to protect unsuspecting students from unscrupulous for-profit predatory institutions. 

Needless to say, for-profit institutions hated the Gainful Employment Rule. Why? Because they could no longer rake in huge sums of tuition money, much of which came directly from the federal government, without accountability. 

In other words, they could no longer enroll unsuspecting students, issue a diploma that often wasn’t worth the paper it was written on, and leave bewildered graduates out in the cold and unable to find work. To make matters worse, these graduates were then saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. 

Data generated from the Education Department and crunched by the ICAS confirm that more than 350,000 students who graduated between 2010 and 2012 fell prey to predatory, low-quality for-profit institutions. These institutions could be categorized as the “bottom of the barrel” in terms of academic quality. They were dangerously close to losing their accreditation, meaning they could no longer qualify to receive federal financial aid money.  

Just how much taxpayer money did those for-profits rake in from those unsuspecting graduates who had worked so hard to make a better life for themselves and their families? Nearly $7.5 billion. The result was 350,000 men and women who found themselves strapped down in student loan debt and unable to find work. These individuals were often first-generation college students and people of color. 

Keep in mind that these figures are only for program completers (graduates). The data would be far higher if we included those who began programs and then for whatever reason had to drop out. 

New Administration, New Policy on Gainful Employment

The for-profit world was ecstatic when Donald Trump appointed Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary. Because of her background in the for-profit education business, they already viewed her as a friend. It took very little lobbying to convince her that higher education institutions shouldn’t be held accountable for their graduates’ success. 

As a result, in 2019 the Trump Administration rescinded the Gainful Employment Rule and immediately allowed schools to stop complying. It’s now as if the rule had never existed. In fact, when running a search for Gainful Employment here’s a screenshot of what you will currently find on the Education Department website: 


Gainful E


As a result, predatory for-profits have been allowed to play in the sandbox unfettered for two years without any gainful employment accountability. 

To sweeten the deal even more, the Trump Administration’s Education Department also rolled back another Obama-era decision to shut down the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS). This particular accrediting body caters to for-profit predators who can’t earn accreditation from other bodies. Their efforts are mostly rubber-stamped and institutions aren’t held accountable for outcomes. I’ve written previously about ACICS and the institutions it has granted accreditation in ACICS: It’s Time to Pull the Plug and The Dominoes That Didn’t Have to Fall: Vatterott College, the ECA, and Others Like Them

Rescinding the Gainful Employment Rule and ACICS went hand-in-glove. 


Another New Administration, Another New Policy 

According to reporting in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Biden Administration will likely take steps to reverse the damage caused by the rescission of the Gainful Employment Rule, but it won’t happen overnight. 

The process will require a lengthy rule-making process and if approved, won’t take effect until at least mid-2022. 

That gives the predatory for-profit world enough time to mount a defense through highly-paid lobbyists. Their efforts can sway public opinion and lawmakers’ minds.

If reinstating the Gainful Employment Rule was as easy as it was to rescind it, we could protect the lives of hundreds of thousands of victimized students.  We could also save billions of taxpayer dollars that continue to fatten the bank accounts of for-profit presidents. 


About the Author: A former public school teacher and college administrator, Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher provides consultative support to colleges and universities in quality assurance, accreditation, educator preparation and competency-based education. Specialty: Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).  She can be reached at: 

Top Graphic Credit: princess on Unsplash


Comprehensive Student Mentoring


Because of COVID, higher education institutions are facing huge financial challenges. Many students have cut way back on the number of credit hours that they’ve taken in the past, while many more have decided to put college on hold for now. There are very few college and university presidents who haven’t lost more than a few nights’ sleep over how they’re going to continue to pay for faculty, staff, and programs when Full Time Enrollment (FTE) numbers have dropped significantly. 


Open Door Policy Can Lead to a Revolving Door Student Body

In order to keep the doors open, some institutions have tried creative ways to boost enrollment. One common way is to move to an open-enrollment model. Essentially, institutions are laying aside many of their traditional admission requirements in order to make it easier for new students to gain entry. Examples include passing entrance exams such as the ACT or SAT as well as high school GPA of at least 2.0. 

This decision can be effective from a recruitment and enrollment perspective because it can give enrollment a “shot in the arm” when an institution needs it most. The upside is that employee furloughs or layoffs are reduced and in some cases even eliminated, and programs don’t have to be cut. However, the consequence is that those institutions admitted a sizable number of students who were not equipped for success. 

Anecdotally, professors report decreased student participation–particularly in their online courses. In addition, the quality of work being submitted is noticeably lower than in previous semesters. When students aren’t actively engaging in their classes or perhaps not even logging in for days or weeks at a time, they likely aren’t going to be successful at the end of the semester. Subsequently, students who fail courses don’t continue to receive federal financial aid for very long. That means they aren’t able to pay for college and thus drop out, likely never to return. 


Struggling Students Also Cause Institutional Challenges

Not only does this have a devastating impact on those students’ lives, but it also has long term effects on those colleges and universities that enrolled them. In order to maintain their accreditation and thus be able to receive federal financial aid, colleges and universities must collect data on metrics such as satisfactory academic progress, retention, persistence to graduation, and student satisfaction.

When institutions adopt an “open enrollment” policy that lasts more than a semester or two, it can have a lasting impact on those metrics. Consequently, when it comes time for an institution’s annual reports or next accreditation site visit, the damage caused by temporary stop-gap policies can potentially be devastating. 


One Solution: Comprehensive Mentoring

I recently recommended to one university that they should consider adopting a comprehensive mentoring program to support students who aren’t able to demonstrate a propensity for success upon admission. 

When they hear the term mentoring many people think it’s the same as academic advising. That’s simply not the case. I look at a comprehensive mentoring program to be academic advising on steroids: It must contain that important traditional academic advising piece, but it adds an important layer of support that helps students in a variety of other ways. For example, trained mentors can help students: 

  • Stay on pace and complete their coursework on time
  • Navigate through the institution’s various departments or bureaucracy
  • Locate social, economic, or emotional support resources
  • Achieve their academic goals and attain success

Just having a strong mentoring program in place doesn’t mean all students will succeed in school. But it’s important for institutions to be able to quickly identify at-risk students and provide them with the kind of support they need. These safety nets can come in many forms, including remediation and intervention. To the greatest extent possible though, I believe a proactive support model is far better than waiting until a student is struggling to reach out to them. 


Four Essential Mentoring Components

I just finished reading Dr. Jill Biden’s doctoral dissertation on Student Retention. Those who really know me should not be surprised to read that this brings me joy and I considered it “pleasure” reading! While it’s a bit light on statistical methodology and there are a few APA errors (my eyes always seem to land on them), the dissertation is very well written. The biggest takeaway is that relative to her conclusions, SHE IS RIGHT. While Bidens’ research focuses on the community college level, her recommendations are equally appropriate for four-year institutions. A recent article the Chronicle for Higher Education encapsulated Biden’s findings into four major categories: 

  • Deep Advising Relationships: The old saying is true – people remember how you make them feel. It takes both time and effort to build a relationship based on trust and mutual respect, but this is a crucial aspect of an effective mentoring program. 
  • Faculty Mentoring Programs: As I previously stated, a comprehensive mentoring program involves a whole lot more than just traditional academic advising with a staff member. There’s an important role that faculty can and should play. It’s also important to remember that all mentors need their own training and support in order to help students attain success. 
  • Mental Health Services: Even under the best of circumstances, many college students struggle adjusting to a new environment, developing into adulthood, and making good personal choices. However, starting college during a pandemic amplifies student stress exponentially. Having the support of caring, competent mentors can help. 
  • More Deliberate Thought to Student Pathways: At the P-12 level, teachers devote considerable attention to setting students up for success through appropriate curriculum, instructional methods, and assessments. Higher education is still in its infancy with regard to designing programs that are relevant, meaningful, and appropriate for student success. Historically, the approach has been to demand that students conform to an existing program model. As a result, we see high numbers of students who struggle and often drop out. We as an educational community need to greatly advance our thinking in this area. 


Tracking Student Success is Essential to Effective Mentoring

Once an institution admits a student, it then takes on the responsibility for that student’s academic success. As I have tried to emphasize above, a comprehensive mentoring program can provide the kind of support at-risk students need to help them experience success and achieve their goals. However, just putting those four major components that Biden recommends in place doesn’t guarantee that students will be successful. In order to know for sure, we must have a way to track their success. That requires quality data. 

In his commentary about using data to support student success in a competency-based education (CBE) model, Kurt Gunnell detailed his institution’s data-driven approach to carefully tracking student success. Western Governors University is not only a CBE institution; it’s also completely online. It’s one of the nation’s largest universities with more than 120,000 students, many of whom are first-generation college students or come from under-represented populations. While recruitment and enrollment aren’t challenges for WGU, faculty and staff work very hard to retain those students and support them from the point of admission to graduation. WGU can tout a first to second year retention rate of 86% for first-time, full-time students. That’s impressive, and it’s due in no small part to the institution’s mentoring program. But a successful mentoring program doesn’t just happen organically. It depends on an effective way to identify at-risk students, track their progress, and measure the impact of various types of support. Gunnell’s commentary details his institution’s new data tracking model. 


The Time is Right to Consider Mentoring

As higher education professionals, we know that some students will always struggle more than others. Adopting a “sink or swim” policy has never been a good idea, but until recently many have given little thought to metrics such as student retention and persistence to graduation. Perhaps in this Age of COVID, at a time when colleges and universities are being forced to reexamine what they can do to adapt and survive, it would be a good idea to give serious consideration to a comprehensive mentoring program. 




About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in higher education quality assurance, educator preparation, and competency-based education. A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now an educational consultant specializing in the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). 

Twitter: @RRossFisher



Top Graphic Credit: Clay Banks on Unsplash


Online Learning: The Future of Higher Education

online learning and higher education

Bloomberg reports that 2.4 million undergraduate college students took all their coursework online last fall–a mere 15% of the total number of students pursuing a baccalaureate degree at the time. Another 3.6 million took at least one online course in addition to taking classes on campus in a traditional face-to-face learning environment. That figure doubled in approximately two weeks. 

Online Learning: 300 and Counting

Because of the COVID-19 crisis, college and university presidents across the United States have been scrambling to provide alternatives to traditional coursework. Currently, almost 300 higher education institutions have either shut their doors entirely or have transitioned to a distance learning format. That’s impacting nearly 4 million students. What’s more, the number could certainly go higher.

While many have resisted distance education for the past two decades, university administrators are transitioning to online learning at lightning speed for two reasons (1) so students can continue to meet degree requirements and (2) so they won’t have to refund tuition and fees, thereby placing their institutions in dire straits financially. 

Higher Education Teetering on the Edge

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, many higher education institutions were already struggling financially. Small, liberal arts colleges have been particularly hard hit due to a combination of factors such as (1) an increased emphasis on workforce development in STEM areas, (2) a strong national economy, and (3) lackluster state funding

USA Today reports that Moody’s credit agency recently downgraded its 2020 outlook for higher education from “stable” to “negative.” Even prior to COVID-19 30% of all public and private institutions were already operating in the red, and now this. Nicht gut. 

Fortunately, higher education institutions aren’t alone. The USDOE, regional accrediting bodies, and state departments of education have essentially granted carte blanche to colleges and universities. That’s helpful in the short term, but it can’t be a long-term strategy. 

Higher education institutions should start planning their future now. 

Is higher education in the United States as we know it a thing of the past? Are colleges and universities doomed for failure? No. While it’s true that higher education leaders need to focus on getting students through this semester in the short-term, they also need to be eyeing a long-term strategy for the future. 

Experts can continue to have their ideological differences regarding traditional face-to-face vs. online instruction, but today it’s a moot point. The fact is we are where we are, and we need to be pragmatic. In all reality, this won’t be the last time we are faced with a regional, national, or global crisis. Administrators need to get through this crisis, but they also need to think through a different lens moving forward. 

Online Learning: Not Just a Strategy of Last Resort 

Traditional higher education doesn’t have to end. Not by a long shot. However, college administrators need to avoid making rapid-fire decisions out of desperation. 

Revisit short-term and long-term strategic goals. 

If you don’t have a clear plan for dealing with crisis situations like the one we’re going through now, build one. If you don’t already have an innovative programming committee, create one. Being proactive rather than reactive is the better approach any day of the week. 

Create a thought leader sandbox. 

Every institution has a least one “out of the box” thinker–one who tends to speak up in meetings and challenges administrative decisions. Deans and department chairs often view these faculty or staff members as a pain in the neck. However, despite them coming across as negative or challenging every decision, those are the very people who should be tapped to lead a sandbox for thought leaders. They are the creative thinkers, and they should be tasked with building their institution for the future. 

Hire distance learning experts who understand and believe in quality. 

Let’s face it: Many institutions simply haven’t properly funded their distance learning departments. In some cases, a single person serves as the entire online learning staff. He or she creates the course shells, trains faculty, serves as Helpdesk support, and more. Moreover, those individuals may or may not even be trained in distance learning andragogy–they simply have strong technical skills to get things set up behind the scenes. That’s just not good enough. 

During this time of crisis, institutions are creating online course shells feverishly en masse, and most faculty have never taught an online course and are trying to teach themselves how to use online learning tools such as Zoom, Blackboard, and VoiceThread

An Opportunity for Higher Education Institutions

As strange as it may sound, this is actually a time of great opportunity for higher education institutions. College and university presidents should look at online learning as a way to build for the future. 

For example, from this point forward each semester staff should automatically create an online course shell for every traditional face-to-face course. Moreover, those staff should populate the shells with current syllabi and learning resources. Professional development in effective online teaching techniques should be offered for all faculty every semester.  The nonprofit organization Quality Matters is an excellent resource institutions can use to train faculty and ensure online course quality. 

For those institutions still on the fence about distance education, administrators could consider adopting a hybrid model whereby courses are offered as a mix of both face-to-face and online instruction. Then, if a crisis should occur, it would be simple to transition courses to an exclusively online model. 

Regardless, college leaders should work tirelessly to make sure that their faculty, staff, and students are never placed into such a stressful situation again. 



About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in higher education quality assurance, educator preparation, and competency-based education. A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now an educational consultant specializing in the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). 

Twitter: @RRossFisher




Top Graphic Credit:


COVID-19 & Higher Education


Note: This article was updated on March 24, 2020 to reflect current closure data. 

Nearly 300 colleges and universities across the United States have announced the decision to either shut their doors or transition their spring semester courses to an online format due to COVID-19 concerns. The number is rising, and quickly. It seems the most current list is being maintained by educator, researcher, and futurist Bryan Alexander, rather than official government agencies. Information is being crowd sourced and isn’t guaranteed to be accurate. 

Normally, higher education institutions must get formal approval from their regional accrediting body in order to make such drastic changes. Staff must file a substantive change application; it’s thoroughly reviewed by the accreditor; and then a final decision is made by accreditation council members. This process can take 6-12 months. However, great latitude is being granted to institutions given the uncertainty and a landscape that seems to be changing daily. 

Institutions Receive Unprecedented Approval

The US Department of Education released a letter “… providing broad approval to institutions to use online technologies to accommodate students on a temporary basis, without going through the regular approval process of the Department in the event that an institution is otherwise required to seek Departmental approval for the use or expansion of distance learning programs.” The Department has also permitted accreditors to “…waive their distance education review requirements for institutions working to accommodate students whose enrollment is otherwise interrupted as a result of COVID-19.” While this broad latitude has a shelf life and there are some limitations, this step is unprecedented. 

And there’s more. For those institutions that may not already be well-equipped to move their face-to-face courses to a distance learning format, the Department says they may also enter into temporary consortium agreements with other institutions so that students can complete courses at other institutions but be awarded credit by their home institution. 

It appears that even residency requirements that stipulate students must complete a certain number of credits at their home institution have been waived with the approval of the institution’s regional accreditor.  

But Are They Ready to Deal with COVID-19? 

Because of the COVID-19 crisis, the flexibility granted to colleges and universities by the USDOE and regional accreditors is huge. Without it, their hands would be tied and they’d be forced to close their doors leaving students in a lurch. However, that’s only the first step in what may seem like a marathon. 

Granted, many institutions have been utilizing distance learning tools for several years and so while it may be challenging to transition and scale up quickly, they will be able to do so fairly successfully. However, for those institutions that up to now have only offered a few courses or even a single program online, they’d better be prepared to paddle upstream, and at lightning speed. Those 300 institutions currently slated to make the transition have a combined enrollment of approximately 4 million students. 

Essential Factors for Higher Education Administrators to Consider

In order to make the best decision possible for students, university administrators should ask some essential questions before deciding whether to transition to a distance learning format, enter into a temporary consortium agreement with a sister institution, or close the doors completely until the Center for Disease Control gives the “all clear” sign for COVID-19. Examples include:  


If the answer is “yes” to each question above, then leaders can feel fairly confident they will be able to successful weather the COVID-19 storm. If no, then administrators need to find another option. And quickly. 


About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in educator preparation, competency-based education, online teaching & learning, accreditation and quality assurance.  A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now a freelance writer and educational consultant. 

Twitter: @RRossFisher                       


Top Graphic Credit:



Uniqueness vs. Accreditation: Why Must We Choose?

It’s been a while ago, but in an issue of the New England Journal of Higher Education, Mark LaCelle-Peterson introduces the educator preparation community to a new way of thinking about quality assurance and accreditation of programs. In the piece, LaCelle-Peterson challenges the notion that measuring the quality of an education program through a compliance lens really isn’t necessary—in fact, it can sometimes inhibit quality by forcing programs to demonstrate adherence to a rigid set of standards and criteria that may or may not be an appropriate fit for all programs given the diversity of missions, visions, populations served, and instructional delivery approaches. For example, what may be appropriate criteria for measuring the quality of a program that serves 18-22-year-old students on a residential suburban campus may be quite different from one that serves learners whose average age is 39 and who pursue their academic studies online within a competency-based educational model. Both prepare educators. Both are committed to quality. But when it comes to making judgments about those programs, one size just doesn’t seem to fit all—and what’s more, why should it? Why is it necessary to have a single set of standards and criteria that all programs must adhere to?

It seems to me that as a community of educators we figured out a long time ago that creating one lesson plan and teaching to students in the middle was simply not an effective approach—nor was it ethical, because that model failed to consider the needs of students who did not fit into a pre-determined mold.  Today we encourage our teacher candidates to not only acknowledge the differences in students, but to embrace that diversity, and to celebrate it—because we know that a diverse group of learners contributes to a dynamic and robust community—one that thrives because of its diversity, not in spite of it.

Quality assurance measures through an appropriate accreditation model can be instrumental to preparation programs’ success through data-driven decision making, continuous program review, and collaboration within the community. Program leaders should not have to put their uniqueness on a shelf in pursuit of accreditation.



Practical Ways to Meet the Needs of Adult Learners

A huge chunk of college enrollments today is made up of adult learners—sometimes referred to as non-traditional students. Just as it’s not appropriate to teach all P-12 students in exactly the same way we must be careful to consider and address the unique needs of adult learners in our colleges and universities. In her article entitled, “4 Ways Universities Can Better Engage with Nontraditional Students,” Meghan Bogardus Cortez shares some tips for higher education programs, each of which can impact student enrollment, retention, graduation, and satisfaction rates. I’d like to add my own tips here:

Make what they are learning meaningful and relevant. Help adult learners to see connections between theory and practice. Show them why it’s important to be able to solve algebraic equations, or why they should know what the War of 1812 was all about. Try to tie it in to how key concepts and skills can be applied their current and future career goals.

Be respectful of them as adults. Non-traditional learners have very different needs than those 18-22-year-olds; treat them accordingly. Listen to them. Take them seriously. And don’t talk down to them.

Acknowledge that they are juggling a lot to go to school. Most adult students work at least one full-time job. They have a spouse and are raising multiple children. Perhaps they’re taking care of aging or infirm parents. Acknowledging that you know “sometimes life gets in the way” is not offering an excuse for them to fail but it’s important they know that you understand that sometimes other priorities must take precedence over their academic studies, and that’s OK.

Help them to set their own reasonable goals and support their efforts in attaining them. It doesn’t do any good to create a schedule for an adult learner or tell them how much they should read or complete in a week’s time—those decisions should be made by them, with some guidance from you. Help them avoid frustration and disappointment by steering them away from committing to too much at once. For example, most learners who are working full-time and trying to raise three kids while going through a divorce should probably not try to complete 18 credits in a semester or think they can read seven chapters and write a 15-page paper over a weekend. In some instances that kind of workload can be maintained for a while but eventually the stress builds up. It’s much better to take it a little slower and succeed than to let a student try to get through a program in record time and then fail.

Help them to see light at the end of the tunnel. Adult learners need an end game—they need to be able to know that their efforts will pay off for them when they are finished—and they need to know that this day will come sooner rather than later.

A dose of compassion and empathy works wonders: Sometimes you are the only positive, affirming, supportive person they will talk to in a give day or even a given week. Be a sounding board when things go wrong, and a cheerleader when things go right. You’re not their therapist nor their friend, per se, and yet so much of effective mentoring requires a dose of both.

These are all things that faculty members can do to help adult learners stay enrolled, graduate, and achieve their goals. Some students, particularly those who struggle or may be identified as “at-risk” could benefit from additional support through a mentoring model, which can be tailored depending on the structure of each college and university.



Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and non-profit agencies in areas such as competency-based education, new program design, gap analysis, quality assurance, leadership, outcomes-based assessment, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations through her blog site ( 

Is Being Accredited Really That Important When Selecting a College?

We all hear and read about the benefits of earning a college degree: We make more money over a lifetime; we get better jobs; we receive company-paid benefits; we tend to be happier and healthier overall. However, choosing the right college or university can be quite daunting, and yet it’s terribly important, because not all institutions are alike, and the quality can vary widely. While there are lots of things to consider such as cost, degree programs, scheduling, and the like, one thing many college students often overlook is whether or not the university is accredited.

There are many types of accreditation–you may likely hear terms such as regional accreditation, national accreditation, functional or programmatic accreditation, and sometimes even state accreditation. Each plays an important role in quality assurance for specific programs or an entire institution but here’s a strong recommendation:

Don’t ever take a single course from an institution that is not accredited. Never. Ever.

While no guarantee of perfection, accredited institutions have provided certain levels of assurance to respected bodies within academia that students will be taken care of. Non-accredited institutions have had no one looking over their shoulder, digging deep and looking in various academic or financial nooks and crannies; they can accept your money with absolutely no guarantee that the course or degree that you completed will be worth anything at all.

Plus, if you complete courses from an unaccredited institution, there is no guarantee that those courses will be accepted should you decide to transfer to another university later on. Even worse, if you go the distance and complete an entire degree from an institution that’s not accredited, you may find that many employers or graduate schools will not recognize that degree–in their eyes it will be like you don’t have a degree at all–but you’ll still have those student loans to pay back just the same.

Here is an entertaining yet informative video that clears up some of the confusion:

ASPA 2016 Explainer

You should be able to choose a college or university that fits your particular needs:

  • faith-based
  • public
  • private
  • traditional brick & mortar
  • online
  • non-profit
  • for-profit

Regardless of which you choose, make sure it’s a program that is accredited.



Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She can be reached at:


Meeting the Needs of Learners in Today’s Universities

In a recent piece entitled Survey: American Confidence in Higher Ed is Waning, it appears that only about 25% of the sample thinks the current higher education system is fine the way it is, and among millennials, that number drops to 13%. First of all, why do 75% believe the system is NOT meeting their needs? And of the millennial group, why do they feel even more strongly about the current system? In other words, what do today’s learners need that our colleges and universities are not providing?

We need to take a deep dive into this survey data in order to learn more about exactly what questions were asked, and what the demographics of respondents were. For example, are we reading the results of a representative sample, or were most respondents within a particular age group? Were the questions focused on seeking a first college degree, or did they include advanced studies? That sort of thing…However, just speaking in general terms, I’d say we need to focus on two things:

First, we need to revisit the relevance of curriculum found in today’s college degree programs. Are they workforce-driven? Will what students are learning really help them develop better job skills? I see very little true collaboration between higher education institutions and specific industries; this is essential for modernizing the curriculum and ensuring that what graduates will know and be able to do upon graduation will prepare them to be workforce-ready.

Second, we need to provide more structured support for those who need it throughout their programs, from matriculation to graduation. Mentoring models work wonders–This is particularly true for first-generation college students but really can benefit all learners. The key is to have a formal mechanism in place for continually monitoring and evaluating the progress of each learner, and to provide a safety net for them all along the way. Regular phone calls, emails, academic outreach, and the like can work wonders to help learners stay focused, achieve manageable goals, and attain success.



Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She can be reached at: