A Second Look At Accreditation: Student, Faculty And Employer Perceptions Of Academic Quality

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Teaching and Leadership


Robert Bogdan


Adult education, Continuing education

Subject Categories

Educational Assessment, Evaluation, and Research


The purpose of this study was to gain a better understanding of how faculty, students and employers think about the concept of academic quality. The study is exploratory in nature and does not seek to prove or disprove any existing or potential theory of academic quality.

Statement of the Problem. Several recent (1979, 1980) studies have questioned the ability of institutions to maintain an adequate level of academic quality in programs and courses delivered at off-campus sites. The criteria used in these studies were similar to those criteria employed by accrediting agencies. Off-campus programs are generally offered to accommodate the needs of adult, part-time students. Accreditation policies and practices were instituted to protect the public interest in education. At issue then is whether academic quality as defined by clients or 'consumers' of higher education has any relationship to how accreditors define the term?

Methodology. This research is a case study of one institution, the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). RIT was chosen because it offers similar (engineering technology) degree programs both on campus and off-campus in a variety of settings. The qualitative research methods of participant observation and open ended interviews were used. Selected criteria of quality assessment used by accreditors were the basis for questioning the subjects. It was expected that subjects would speak with authority about those criteria that were associated with their educational experience: i.e. classroom settings, etc. Further, it was expected that subjects would have some operational definition of academic quality.

The raw data were analyzed to yield major themes that became the basis for the four data chapters in this study.

Major Findings. The subjects of this study defined quality in different terms than accreditation agencies. The quality of an educational experience may differ from student to student based on the prior experience he or she brings to the classroom. The subjects in this study tend to define educational quality in terms of the utility of the courses taken and the credential earned.

The study raised several questions that may lead to fruitful research. The context of student evaluations of teaching may be dependent on the nature and characteristics of the student. A better understanding of how students integrate formal learning with previous learning and life experience might assist educators in designing curricula to insure better quality. Further study might reveal significant tension between accreditation and adult learning needs that would suggest ways to enhance college instruction for adult students.


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