The seven accreditors comprising the Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions (C-RAC) recently took an important stance for student learning. Their statement, available here, establishes a clear direction for future research and leadership efforts on our campuses. The statement rallies against narrow definitions of "student outcomes" such as retention, persistence, and employment. Instead, C-RAC leaders recognized the challenging place these definitions put institutional leaders in. " While these oft-cited student outcomes may be easily (if sometimes inaccurately) measured, we believe that they are inadequate measures of student achievement, and that student outcomes must be assessed above and beyond these indirect measures through direct measures of what students learn." Said differently, I often refer to retention, persistence, and employment rates as "institutional outcomes" or the resultants of what an institution does to ensure (but not guarantee) effective retention, persistence, and employment. I also call these measure the "byproducts of effective learning" and have found many institutional leaders to respond to these nuanced definitions.
I can't envision a time when higher education institutions will not find retention, persistence, and employment rates as important metrics of quality. I do, indeed want to know that my children are going to get a job after college, after all. However, I also want something more for them, like being able to apply good content and theories, ethical decision making, and healthy life choices. I think that's the point of C-RACs stance. Incidentally, I've seen several statements such as this one before. What's different about this statement is its directness and concise nature.
Finally, I am excited to learn what the new IPEDS Outcomes Measures Survey will add to the discussion. Slated for release in October 2016, it may fill in a few gaps and offer researchers and practitioners a new approach to theorizing about the results of a modern American college degrees.