Lack of online course evaluation leads to accreditation warning

ACCJC, the accrediting commission behind the City College of San Francisco crisis, issued an warning to Honolulu Community College in February of this year, with a report required by October 15. As described in Hawai’i News Now:

Honolulu Community College has been placed on warning accreditation status by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, the only of the University of Hawaii’s ten campuses to get such a warning.

The accrediting panel gave the 4,400-student campus the warning after an evaluation visit to the Kalihi school last fall.

What is interesting in this action is that one of the primary drivers of the warning was HCC’s lack of evaluation of the effectiveness of their online courses versus the comparable face-to-face courses.

More than 100 HCC faculty members teach courses online and that’s where the accreditation panel leveled its most serious criticism.

“The college should compare the instructional quality of face-to-face and distance education courses and develop a strategic plan for distance education,” the accrediting panel wrote.

There has been a lack of publicly-available information across higher education documenting the relative results of online courses and traditional courses, and this move by the accrediting commission could have a big impact. For its part, HCC will likely have this information in its report next month. But I would expect other schools, especially those accredited by ACCJC (mostly community and junior colleges on the west coast), to now be highly motivated to collect and report on similar data.

From the accreditation report on HCC:

The team recommends that the college develop a formal assessment process in order to evaluate the effectiveness of its Distance Education program in meeting the institutional mission. The process should include a systematic evaluation, analysis, communication, and improvement of the program, including assessment of how well each online course is satisfying its learning outcomes, support for staff development, and technical assistance for faculty. [snip]

The previous visiting team recommended that the college develop a formal assessment process for distance education courses. There are at least two assessment reports based on student surveys, suggesting the college pays attention to student learning outcomes and satisfaction with various services and programs. However, the college was unable to provide evidence on comparative successful completion data for online learning versus face-to-face classes (no data are cited in the Self Evaluation Report on disaggregated success rates, and no data either on the DE Assessment Web site). [emphasis added]

Improved Transparency

I have previously criticized accrediting commissions for their lack of transparency. A welcome aspect of this news is that ACCJC is now encouraging schools to publicly share their accrediting information – the full HCC report is here, and the cover letter includes this blurb:

Please note that in response to public interest in disclosure, the Commission now requires institutions to post accreditation information on a page no farther than one click from the institution’s home page.


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About Phil Hill

Phil is a consultant and industry analyst covering the educational technology market primarily for higher education. He has written for e-Literate since Aug 2011. For a more complete biography, view his profile page.
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