Skip to main content

Assessment and Accountability: Accountability - Higher Ed

Resource on K-16 assessment and accountability practices.


Bresciani, M. J. (2013). Afterword: Considerations for Future Practice of Assessment and Accountability. New Directions For Student Services, 2013(142), 99-105. doi:10.1002/ss.20053

Johnson, N. (2013). Can Higher Education Accountability Be Both Fair and Transparent? Lessons from Context for Success. Change, 45(1), 40-47. doi:10.1080/00091383.2013.749147

Mehta, J. (2014). When Professions Shape Politics: The Case of Accountability in K-12 and Higher Education. Educational Policy, 28(6), 881-915. DOI: 10.1177/0895904813492380

Welch, E. H. (2011). Perspectives: Pursuing quality in higher education. Change, 43(1), 28-30.

Complexity of Higher Ed Accountability

   Institutions of higher education are held accountable by state and federal agencies who fund their programs and also to accreditation agencies that evaluate their programs and the university as a whole. This happens in a variety of ways, for example, Lamar University reports graduation data and enrollment data to the Higher Education Coordinating Board in Texas they issue reports about retention in programs and until recently the board would shut down programs that did not perform well.  This data also impacts state funding levels. Graduation data, student enrollment, diversity and much more is also submitted in the Postsecondary Educational Information Management System (PEIMS) and in a variety of other surveys conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics. 

   In light of the accountability movement states are establishing initiatives that coordinate higher education with industry demands. In Texas the plan is called Closing the Gaps and it was adopted in 2000 with a target completion date of 2015. This is used as the framework for the the accountability system in Texas which includes four key areas:

Participation - by 2015, close the gaps in participation rates across Texas to add 630,000 more students.

Success - By 2015, award 210,000 undergraduate degrees, certificates and other identifiable student successes from high quality programs.

Excellence - By 2015, substantially increase the number of nationally recognized programs or services at colleges and universities in Texas

Research - By 2015, increase the level of federal science and engineering and development obligations to Texas institutions to 6.5 percent of obligations to higher education institutions across the nation. 

(From Higher Education Accountability System located at

Benefits based upon the research:

Accountability in teaching will cause universities to examine how to best serve their students and avoid practices like using adjuncts instead of full time faculty to save money thus substituting quantity for quality (Mehta, 2014, p. 909).

The process also requires programs to update and faculty to keep curent  with their content so that they can adequately cover the content and then the students will perform better on the assessments.

Complaints based upon the research: 

The Students Right to Know Act requires that all data for all schools be displayed in the same format but it does not distinguish the school data based upon population. For example in the College Navigator website a large four year university will be compared to a junior college with a different feeder population (Johnson, 2013). Accountability systems do not distinguish between a open enrollment college and a Tier 1 school and this would explain the graduation rates.

Johnson specifically points out the case of Texas where the Governor wants higher education funded by outcomes which would cause financial problems for institutions that are successfully meeting the needs of their populations even thought their graduation rates are low. 

Welch (2011) argues that most students who attempt college do not finish and that is a failure due in part to institutions that refuse to change and address the needs of the students (p. 30).