CHEA’s 2017 Annual Conference: A Summary in Tweets

When it comes time to reflect on a conference as chock-full of information and insights as last week’s CHEA 2017 Annual Conference, Twitter sure comes in handy. Like many others, we tweeted throughout the two-day gathering, and our tweets captured the highlights as they occurred.

Here are some of the tweets, themes, and takeaways that emerged from the conference—a gathering that coincided with the 20th anniversary of CHEA and the start of an unpredictable Trump administration. It’s safe to say that there wasn’t a dull moment in the bunch.

The Student Perspective on Accreditation

What do students think about accreditation, and how can they help shape its future? In an effort to bring more voices to the conversation, CHEA moderated an exciting panel that featured three student leaders: Shane Smith from the University of Houston, Vaasavi Unnava from Carnegie Mellon University, and Rachel Zuckerman from the University of Iowa.

Some takeaway tweets:

Students will be involved if they know that their involvement will lead to something. Rachel Zuckerman, U of Iowa student prez #chea2017ac

Students are the ultimate consumers, and they’re probably, for that reason, the best judges of quality. #accreditation #chea2017ac

#Accreditation needs to look at the entire student experience. #chea2017ac

A tiered system of #accreditation—gold, silver, bronze? #chea2017ac

These students were dazzling. Despite being new to accreditation—all three brushed up on the basics days before the conference—they brought some valuable ideas to the table. Why, for example, are students mostly left out of the process? Shouldn’t they have a voice in evaluating the quality of their institutions? The student panelists suggested creating a tiered system of accreditation, in order to better inform students and motivate institutions as they journey toward full accreditation. They also pointed out the need to raise awareness of accreditation among students, since it plays such a critical role in validating the time, money, and effort they spend on higher education. Students need to be more informed about the process, and about what accreditation means to them and their futures.

Data Discoveries

One of the highlights from this year’s conference was a presentation given by Brandon Busteed, the Executive Director of Education and Workforce Development for Gallup, Inc. Brandon shared many eye-opening findings from Gallup’s perception analysis of higher education, but these two insights stood out to us:

Demand for higher education is at an all-time high (97%) – good news. #chea2017ac

98% of provosts think their schools prepare students for the workforce, but only 13% of Americans and 11% of employers agree. #chea2017ac

It’s certainly good news that higher education demand is at an all-time high, but accreditors in the audience surely took notice of the fact that many university leaders have an inflated and out-of-touch sense of the overall value their institutions provide. What should we do with this information? As the quality police, accreditors are positioned to help close this massive perception gap through the critical evaluation and assessment work they do every day.

Media Matters

It’s no secret that accreditation has suffered some reputational problems of late. The media has come down hard on the industry, thanks to recent scandals in the for-profit sector. So we were eager to attend a panel discussion on accreditation and the media, where we heard perspectives from three higher education journalists and witnessed an honest conversation about how accreditation is covered by the media.

Some takeaway tweets:

How can we get a good sound byte or tagline for the media when the work we do in accreditation is so complex? #chea2017ac

Explaining the value of #accreditation to journalists: what does it mean for students, in the classroom? #chea2017ac

One of the themes that emerged from this session is how difficult it is to report on such a complex industry. In its reporting, the media often fails to distinguish between different types of accreditors. This tendency to paint with a broad brush leads to generalizations and misunderstandings in public perception: a few bad apples wind up representing the bunch.

And why does accreditation matter in the first place? What is its value? These questions are all too often ignored by the media: while the juicy stories are the ones that revolve around corruption and scandal, journalists and the accreditation industry itself don’t do enough to discover and promote accreditation success stories. This needs to change.

Perhaps the greatest conference takeaway is this: the accreditation community is a passionate and intelligent one, and the individuals we met care a great deal about holding higher education programs and institutions to a high standard of excellence. We were honored to be in the company of so many outstanding attendees, and we’re already looking forward to next year.

Here’s to the future of quality in accreditation!