Thursday, May 24, 2012

Regulating the Market for University Provided Distance Education--Administrators and Politicial Figures Aplenty But No Role for Faculty

This from the Chronicle of Higher Education:
The Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and the State Higher Education Executive Officers have organized a commission that will explore the regulation of postsecondary distance education. The commission will craft recommendations on the challenges that colleges face when they offer programs in multiple states. The group includes the Clinton administration’s education secretary, Richard W. Riley, as well as the lieutenant governor of Colorado and a former governor of Wyoming. Its first session will be in June. (Public-University Groups Form Panel on Distance-Education Regulation, The Ticker, Chronicle of Higher Education, May 23, 2012).
On the one hand this may be good news as the free market approach to the development of distance education has increased competition among universities and provided a host of distinct models.  Standardization may be useful for students so that they might have confidence in choosing among programs and understanding what each offers and lacks. On the other hand, these efforts to control and manage distance education suggests a certain degree of collusion in the control of markets for students even as they impose market discipline and standardization on the product offered. 

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2012)

And, as appears to be usual in these endeavors, no one had thought to include in the Commission a space for the institutional voice of faculty.  As a consequence, while there will be much discussion about the management and shape of markets for distance education, and standardization of its form and content, all of this will be done without the bother of consulting with the stakeholder that will bear the largest share of responsibility for its implementation and success (or failure). 

The APLU's Newsletter provides more detail:
 Former U. S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley and 20 other leaders have been invited to explore the regulation of postsecondary distance education on a new national commission organized by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (A۰P۰L۰U) and the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO).  (List of members is below.)
The Commission on Regulation of Postsecondary Distance Education will invite testimony and information and develop recommendations to address the regulatory costs and inefficiencies faced by postsecondary institutions that must comply with multiple and often inconsistent state laws and regulations when providing educational opportunities in multiple state jurisdictions.  A۰P۰L۰U President Peter McPherson and SHEEO President Paul Lingenfelter will both serve on the Commission and will assist Secretary Riley in leading its work. The Commission’s first session will be June 12, 2012 in Washington, DC.
“The responsibilities for higher education quality assurance and consumer protection in the United States are dispersed among various actors, including accreditors, states and the federal government,” said Riley. “In some cases they complement each other, in others they unnecessarily duplicate each other.”
The Commission’s recommendations will be developed in the context of and with specific reference to issues of appropriate government oversight and consumer protection associated with postsecondary distance education.  As the Commission considers options associated with an appropriate and more uniform role for states, Commissioners will need to consider how state regulation should complement the role of the accreditors and the federal government.
“Finding common ground among affected postsecondary institutions and entities with regulatory authority is important for the country,” said McPherson. “Innovative instruction through information technology is being employed by colleges and universities of every type to reduce geographical and scheduling barriers to access.  Under the right circumstances, these technologies have demonstrably helped improve the quality and the efficiency of instruction.” (Former Education Secretary Richard Riley to Lead Commission on Regulation of Postsecondary Distance Education, APLU, A Public Voice, May 23, 2012).

The Newsletter also lists the members of the Commission. The interests of the state, of administrators, of consumers for education, of those responsible for the technical aspects of program and course delivery are all represented.

Distance Education CommissionMembership List
  • Hon. Richard W. Riley (Chair)Senior Partner, Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP and its affiliate, Education Counsel LLC and Former U.S. Secretary of Education
  • Meg Benke, Ph.D.Provost and Vice President, Academic Affairs, SUNY Empire State College
  • Hon. Joseph A. GarciaLieutenant Governor of Colorado and Executive Director, Colorado Department of Higher Education
  • Hon. Jim GeringerFormer Governor of Wyoming
  • Rufus Glasper, Ph.D.Chancellor, Maricopa County Community College District
  • Terry W. HartleSenior Vice President, Division of Government and Public Affairs, American Council on Education (ACE)
  •  Marshall A. Hill, Ph.D.Executive Director, Nebraska Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education
  • Arthur Kirk, Jr., Ph.D.President, Saint Leo University
  • Paul E. Lingenfelter, Ph.D.President, State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO)
  • Sylvia Manning, Ph.D.President, Higher Learning Commission for the North Central Association, and Former Chancellor, University of Illinois, Chicago
  •  M. Peter McPhersonPresident, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (A۰P۰L۰U) 
  • Bobby D. Moser, Ph.D.Vice President, Agriculture Administration and Dean, College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, The Ohio State University and Chair, Board of Directors, American Distance Education Consortium (ADEC) 
  • Hon. Tad PerryMember, South Dakota House of Representatives
  • George D. Peterson, Ph.D., P.E.Former Executive Director, ABET (accredits university programs in applied science, computing, engineering, and engineering technology)
  • James PetroChancellor, Ohio Board of Regents
  • Michael Plater, Ph.D.President, Strayer University
  • Pamela K. QuinnProvost, LeCroy Center for Educational Telecommunications, Dallas County Community College District
  • George E. Ross, Ph.D.President, Central Michigan University
  • Paul Shiffman, Ed.D.Assistant Vice President for Strategic and Government Relations, President’s Forum
  • Ronald L. TaylorCo-Founder and Retired CEO, DeVry Inc.
  • Belle S. Wheelan, Ph.D.President, Southern Association of Schools and Colleges
Observers and Advisors 
  • Kay GilcherFederal Liaison to the Commission, U.S. Department of Education
  • Julie BellProgram Director, Education Program, National Conference of State Legislators
  • Bruce N. Chaloux, Ph.D.Executive Director and CEO, Sloan Consortium, and Past Director, Student Access and Programs and the Electronic Campus at SREB
  •  A. Frank Mayadas, Ph.D.Senior Advisor, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
  • Bob MoranDirector, Federal Relations, American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU)
  • Travis ReindlProgram Director, Postsecondary Education, National Governors Association
The context is clear, though the ultimate product of this commission remains murky.  This organization has gathered leading administrators, an assortment of political figures and people having some expertise in the technical side of distance education delivery.  But faculty, they are missing.  It probably never entered into the collective heads of those responsible for the management of this organization that faculty also serve as an important stakeholder in this enterprise.  I suspect that to some extent this tells us more about the way that an important segment of the education management industry (administrators, political figures, technical experts) continue to conceive of faculty as serving in a passive role--as mere employees perhaps,  who, gratefiul for the benefits of a job, have little to offrer in the construciton of university and post-graduate education in the United States. But unlike consumers, for whose benefit this task is undertaken, faculty, as a factor in the production of education, have no interest to be protected and no standing to contribute to the discussion.  This is odd indeed.  This approach, ultimately, may contribute  a loss of legitimacy of efforts of this sort, and, in any case, is to be regreted.

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