Has Higher Education Lost Control Over Quality? – WorldWise – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Has Higher Education Lost Control Over Quality? – WorldWise – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

 

Contrary to the title, this piece is not about “losing control over quality”, but about “losing control of the definition and measurement of quality”.  Of course, the term “quality” itself is overloaded, with apparent (but misleading) synonyms “worthwhile”, “appropriate competencies, assessments, and curricula”, “comparability of qualifications”, “college performance”, “learning outcomes”.

It should be no surprise that “quality” is used as a valorizing wrapper around whatever the speaker values, whether “bang for the buck” (Obama College Scorecard), or “to succeed in the contemporary workplace” (Lumina Degree Qualifications Profile).  Nor is it surprising that the University is reluctant to engage in the discussion of what “quality” means, for fear of revealing that others’ values are only second-order goals for it.  As an institution, its first-order goal is to enable its continuance by reproducing its (fallible) components — that is, by producing people who can occupy the needed roles in the institution.  The education of others who are not destined for academe just pays the bills.

In a society in which the preservation of institutions is taken for granted, that first-order goal can also go unexamined.  But in the hyper-utilitarian culture we now inhabit, in which every institution is under constant “bang for buck” scrutiny, those fallible components need to come up with something better — in a hurry.

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