Linda Suskie

 A Common Sense Appr​oach to Assessment in Higher Education


Encouraging great teaching

Posted on March 16, 2015 at 8:10 AM

One of my favorite chapters in my book Five Dimensions of Quality: A Common Sense Guide to Accreditation and Accountability is “Why Is This So Hard?” It was my “venting chapter,” with a pretty long list of the barriers to advancing in quality, and it was very cathartic to write.


One item on that list is succinct: The money’s not there. A new report by Third Way states the issue beautifully: “Federal policy incentivizes research first, second, and third—and student instruction last.” It goes on to explain, “For every $100 the federal government spends on university-led research, it spends twenty-four cents on teaching innovation at universities.” Its conclusion? “If one took its cues entirely on the federal government, the conclusion would be that colleges exist to conduct research and publish papers with student instruction as an afterthought.”


One professor at a regional comprehensive university put it to me this way: “I know I could be a better teacher. But my promotions are based on the research dollars I bring in and my publications, so that’s where I have to focus all my time. As long as my student evaluations are decent, there’s no incentive or reward for me to try to improve my teaching, and any time I spend on that is time taken away from my research, which is where the rewards are.”


The one bright spot here is that more and more colleges and universities are recognizing the need to invest in helping faculty improve their teaching. The last 20 years have seen a growth in “teaching learning centers” designed to do this along with other incentives and support, such as those at the University of Michigan reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education. But so far we are only scratching the surface. Colleges, universities, and government policymakers all need to do more to put their money where their mouth is, actively encouraging and supporting the great teaching and learning that is supposed to be higher education’s fundamental purpose.

Categories: Curriculum & teaching, Assessment culture, State of higher ed