ACTA: Accountability

As a follow up to my previous posting I am posting another article from the ACTA website on ACCOUNTABILITY. This further shows that the letter attributed to ACTA is at direct odds with the organization’s mission.

“In recent years corporate boards have become less beholden to management. By demanding increased accountability, productivity, and efficiency these trustees have helped spur America’s renewed competitiveness in the world economy. The time is ripe for a similar revolution in higher education governance.”
— Founders, Institute for Effective Governance

The president of a college or university, as the chief executive officer, has two principal duties: to ensure that the institution’s product is a good one, namely a strong education for the students, and to manage the institution’s resources as effectively as possible. Trustees, as the board of directors, cannot take for granted that these results are being achieved. They must hold the administration accountable for results, thus answering to the shareholders of the higher education enterprise —students, parents, alumni, and taxpayers who deserve the best possible education at the lowest possible cost.

Unlike the business world, however, in higher education there are no readily quantifiable measures of educational strength to serve as a bottom line, and it is harder to identify inefficiency in nonprofit entities than in for-profit ones. These facts make accountability more difficult, but do not lessen its importance.

Many colleges and universities no longer provide every student with a strong education. Indiana University English professor Murray Sperber has written that many universities today keep their undergraduates content with a “beer and circus” atmosphere to cover for the fact that they are not receiving much of an education. Huge lecture sections in some courses and a plethora of academically dubious offerings as electives have turned what was once the nourishing, home-cooked meal of a college education into a cafeteria of snacks and desserts.

While tuition at America’s institutions has increased at twice the rate of inflation, economists Frederic Pryor and David Schaffer observe in their book Who’s Not Working and Why, a rising percentage of college graduates wind up taking what used to be regarded as “high school” jobs because of their low level of skills.

And it is also true that many colleges and universities fail to manage resources well or establish sensible priorities. New programs are often started without closing low priority programs. Resources are often not targeted where they will have the maximum impact on student learning.

Unfortunately, very few students complain as long as they receive their degree; very few parents complain because they assume that college isn’t much different from when they were students; and very few trustees complain because they hear from the administration that all is well. But it is incumbent upon college and university boards of trustees to do all they can to hold administrations accountable. Trustees are guardians of the public interest and have the fiduciary responsibility to ensure the academic and financial health of their institution.

“ACTA is on the cutting edge of the new philosophy that boards should be active
and responsible representatives of the public interest.”

— Michigan Governor John Engler

ACTA favors an active approach to trusteeship. Trustees have a unique opportunity to examine their college curricula and strengthen the core requirements, insisting on high academic standards. “Honors” programs at many institutions have done this and there is no reason why only the few students enrolled in such programs should be given a rigorous education. Trustees can address falling admissions standards and grade inflation, ensuring that students cannot receive a degree without truly earning it. And trustees can require their institution to develop meaningful assessments of student learning to document actual results.

Trustees can and should assert themselves on the fiscal side as well. They can become involved in setting budget priorities, rather than merely rubber-stamping the budget the administration submits. They can demand justification for any spending proposals that seem needlessly high or out of line with the school’s mission.

ACTA has worked vigorously to improve accountability and oversight in higher education. Colleges and universities must explain what they are doing and document that they are doing it well. Greater information and disclosure enables parents, students, alumni, and taxpayers to evaluate colleges’ performance. Greater oversight provides checks-and-balances to tendencies within the institutions that do not serve the education of students.

“The days of rubber-stamp governance are over. The public wants accountability—quality education at
a reasonable cost—and ACTA is the only organization determined to assist college and university trustees
in become active, responsible stewards of higher education.”
— Jerry L. Martin, Chairman, ACTA

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