Recent reports at the state and national level have left the public questioning the accountability measures in place at some colleges and universities. At the same time, there has been a call for colleges and universities to make assessment data more readily available to students and parents seeking information on prospective schools.
In response to these and other issues facing higher education, The New York Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education recently formed the nation’s first Higher Education Cabinet. Officials from the two publications invited 76 college and university presidents and chancellors from across the country to come together to “facilitate creative and collective discussions about the key topics in higher education,” said Felice Nudelman, executive director of education for the Times.
TCNJ President R. Barbara Gitenstein was among the institutional leaders asked to serve on the cabinet. At the group’s first meeting in September, she participated in a conversation on the issues of accountability and assessment.
“I am convinced that one of the biggest challenges for higher education today is the eroding public trust,” Gitenstein said afterward. “Higher education simply must become more transparent with the public and our stakeholders. In addition, we must become more engaged in the education of the media and the public about what constitutes the higher education enterprise and how others can judge if we are delivering on our promises.”
“TCNJ’s commitment to greater accountability began as early as my first speech as president of the College and has been reinforced by our including accountability and transparency as one of our current strategic initiatives,” Gitenstein said.
During Gitenstein’s tenure as president, the College has remained committed to ensuring accountability and transparency in its financial dealings. Just one example: TCNJ’s Board of Trustees has an audit committee that operates independently of the College’s administration, and which follows accounting practices similar to those recommended by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act for publicly traded companies.
In the area of assessment, Gitenstein oversaw the creation of the Center for Institutional Effectiveness (CIE), which works with units from across campus to design, perform, and communicate analyses of institutional data. That data is used to enhance operations and student outcomes and to improve College services and programs. The College makes the data readily available on the Web page of the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment (www.tcnj.edu/~ir/).
TCNJ also participates in the Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA). Through VSA, TCNJ can communicate information on the undergraduate student experience—including undergraduate demographics, costs of attendance and financial aid, retention rates, popular programs, and future plans of bachelor’s degree recipients—in an accessible, understandable, and comparable way. The College is one of only four public institutions in New Jersey, and one of 266 institutions nationwide, currently participating in the initiative.
At future meetings, the Higher Education Cabinet will identify other trends and pressing issues facing higher education today. With Dr. Gitenstein’s continued involvement with the group, TCNJ will continue to play a significant role in shaping the national discussion on higher education.
“This is really a very promising and interesting partnership—the media and higher education,” Gitenstein said. “Both are being challenged by new financial and communication models and methods and both are essential to a healthy democracy.”