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Posted at 9:52 AM ET, 02/28/2011

Fixing higher ed: ACE's Molly Corbett Broad

By Daniel de Vise

In an article published last week in The Washington Post Magazine, I offered eight suggestions to "fix" higher education. After reading the article, you can rank the ideas in a poll, which you will find farther down on this blog.

For the article, I sought help from several great leaders and thinkers. Some submitted their own thoughts on how to improve higher education. Here is the 12th and last of those submissions, from Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, arguably the preeminent higher education association.

Challenges Facing Higher Education

There are a number of pressing issues facing American higher education today. Given the range of these issues, it's difficult to pick two. But if I had a magic wand and could address two major challenges, I would tackle adult education and accreditation.

In this country, there are 36 million Americans without a high school diploma or its equivalent. That number is staggering and requires nothing short of a complete realignment of adult education in ways that are systemic but focused on the needs of students we can no longer call "non-traditional." We must think bigger; we must think innovatively; and we must engage productively with partners throughout the education community. Today's adult education ecosystem is fractured, misaligned, and under capacity.

ACE is the parent of the GED Test. The GED was created following WWII when returning veterans who dropped out of high school to volunteer for the draft could not take advantage of the GI Bill without a high school credential. While today's GED Test provides a much-needed fresh start each year for hundreds of thousands of GED candidates and test-takers, just passing the GED Test is no longer enough in today's demanding economy.

We need to offer programs that are tailored to the needs of adults instead of trying to force fit these students into programs created for 18-year-olds. Breakthroughs in cognitive science and new analytic tools may help us develop customized, disruptive and scalable practices that will make it possible for adults to accelerate their progress toward high school and postsecondary credentials.

This work is a major focus of the GED Testing Service's 21st Century Initiative, which features three high-impact outcomes: 1) delivery of a new more rigorous GED Test aligned with the Common Core Standards that will certify college and career readiness; 2) implementation of accelerated learning and preparation programs featuring customized instruction; and 3) support for a transition network that connects test-takers to career and postsecondary opportunities so that the GED credential isn't a destination but a starting point.

In the area of accreditation, we must strengthen and reinforce the value of this system of voluntary peer-review that has contributed to the quality and impressive diversity of American higher education that has made it the finest in the world.

Indeed, accreditation has served higher education well for more than a century. But its purposes and the demands upon it are changing quickly and dramatically. What started out as a peer review process to facilitate institutional self-improvement has increasingly become the only readily available tool to ensure the academic quality of institutions of higher education.

As a result, policy makers and the public expect accreditors to do more things--like serve as consumer protection watchdogs, a role I believe is more appropriate for government entities.

The widespread and growing interest in education outcomes and the work of accreditors makes it imperative that the higher education community undertake a sustained and systematic review of the practice to ensure that it is both rigorous and easily understandable to the public and policy makers.

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By Daniel de Vise  | February 28, 2011; 9:52 AM ET
Categories:  Accreditation, Administration  | Tags:  ACE Broad, Fixing higher education, fixing higher ed washington post, washington post magazine higher education  
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