Distance education, increasingly known as E-learning and increasingly popular, has long been lacking ways to measure accountability. That might be changing, as several schools are participating in the effort to develop a voluntary student outcomes measurement system. The plan, "Transparency by Design: Principles of Good Practice for Higher Education Institutions Serving Adults at a Distance," began in September 2007 and aims to publish the first school-specific data in 2009.
According to Michael Offerman, vice chairman of Capella University (who has a blog called The Other 85 Percent), the time has come to start addressing the lack of accountability and outcomes measures among the online education community. Up to this point, there has been very little information available on how well students do at specific online universities.
Transparency by Design schools hope to change that with a template called a "Learning Outcomes Report," which calls for each participating school to report demographics and student information, program-level learning outcomes, student satisfaction or student engagement results, and alumni satisfaction, as well as explanations of the methodologies that were used.
The schools currently participating are Capella University; Charter Oak State College; Excelsior College; Franklin University; Kaplan University; Regis University; Rio Salado College; Western Governors University; Union Institute & University; Fielding Graduate University; American Public University System; and Southwestern College.
Bottom line: These schools have laid out a series of very ambitious data collection and reporting goals. The hope is that this accountability system will succeed and that many more of distance education's major institutions like the University of Phoenix and the University of Maryland-University College will join this movement. U.S. News will be watching the efforts of these schools and will report back when the first results are issued.