March 7, 2016

Changing the Debate on Quality Assurance in Higher Education

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation (USCCF) and USA Funds are working together to explore strategies and solutions for addressing the skills gap facing America’s business community, while promoting “completion with a purpose” for our nation’s graduates.

In our work we have profiled a skills gap that has a significant impact on the ability of companies to grow and compete in today’s economy. We have also highlighted a growing disconnect between the business community and higher education. According to a survey by Gallup, only 11% of business leaders perceive college graduates to be ready for work, whereas 96% of chief academic officers in our nation’s colleges believe students are adequately prepared to start their careers.

Students themselves perceive this disconnect, with only 35% feeling prepared to enter the world of work. This is especially problematic because of the increasing number of nontraditional students who are now entering higher education to improve their career opportunities.

With higher education being the chief source of talent for our business community, it is of paramount importance that we begin to address this disconnect.

Since 2014, USCCF has addressed long-standing challenges around employer engagement in education and workforce systems. Through the Talent Pipeline Management initiative, we have explored applying lessons learned from supply chain management to expand the leadership role of employers as end-customers of talent supply chain partnerships.

However, some concepts introduced through our work have yet to be fully explored, including how employers can designate preferred providers for sourcing talent. In order to assist employers in these pursuits, this requires a deeper exploration into lessons learned from supplier quality assurance and certification systems in supply chain management.

The challenge we are confronted with now is how to extend these lessons learned from supply chain management to a rapidly changing postsecondary environment where higher education accreditation plays a major quality assurance role. Solving this challenge cannot be narrowly defined in terms of how to reform accreditation; nor can it be a solution driven by government mandate, finance, and regulation. Instead we argue that there is a need for a different approach that would establish a voluntary, employer-driven talent supplier recognition and certification system—one that can complement the existing accreditation system and be used to improve government-supported quality assurance systems over time.

We begin with an overview of the Talent Pipeline Management initiative and lessons learned from supply chain management in supplier quality assurance and certification. Next, we present two approaches for expanding the employer role in higher education accreditation and a roadmap for developing an independent, employer-driven system. We then address implications for scaling and sustaining this new approach and conclude by issuing a call to action.