Featured Post

Why do I assess?

Originally posted on January 31, 2019, on LindaSuskie.com Last year was not one of the best for higher ed assessment. A couple of very negat...

A few suggestions on working from home

 Originally published on March 25, 2020, on LindaSuskie.com

1. Go easy on yourself. What many of us have been through in the past few weeks is akin to starting a new job in a new environment under incredibly stressful circumstances—simultaneously learning new job skills on an incredibly steep learning curve while simultaneously caring for children, supervising home-schooling, and dealing with debilitating anxiety over the health and safety of our loved ones and the practicalities of providing household necessities. No wonder we’re overwhelmed! But recognize that, in some ways, things will start to get better. You’ll figure out a routine; you’ll figure out how best to use your college’s learning management system; you’ll figure out how to adjust this semester’s assignments; and you’ll figure out how to use a gas pump without infecting yourself (tip I learned yesterday: put your hand in a dog poop bag). It will not always be this bad.

2. The hardest part of working from home may be self-discipline. Unless you’re facing an imminent, intractable deadline, home has plenty of distractions. There have been plenty of times the laundry has looked a lot more appealing than the project that was facing me! I think the only way to address this is to appraise yourself honestly and build in whatever discipline you need. For example, if I have to read something deadly dull, I promise myself a cup of coffee when I’m done, but not before.

3. Carve out the right workspace. Again understand what you need to make working-at-home work for you. I’ve learned that I must be in front of a window, the bigger the better. So, though I initially created a workspace in a spare bedroom, our kitchen island has turned into my office, because it overlooks the biggest window in the house, with a great view of our backyard. I think I do some of my best thinking while looking out the window. But maybe you need that spare bedroom, so you can literally close the door and turn off work at the end of the day. When our children were young, my workspace was in the family room so I could be there for them.

4. Working from home is lonely. I’m an off-the-charts introvert and even I miss water-cooler camaraderie. Because most of my work is confidential, I can’t vent about that asinine e-mail to anyone. Here’s where technologies such as e-mail listservs, social media, video technologies (Skype, Face Time, Zoom), texts, and old-fashioned phone calls become really important. The ASSESS listserv has been a lifesaver for me in terms of staying connected with professional peers. I’ve also joined some Facebook groups focused on some of my outside interests. If you have friends or colleagues who have work-at-home experience, tap them for ideas.

5. Evolve into a routine that works for you. I’m an early riser, so my day starts early, in my PJs, before anyone else is up, with a cup of coffee, checking routine e-mails while the caffeine sinks in. Once I’m fully caffeinated, I tackle the meatier stuff. Because I start early, I stop most work by late afternoon. I do work on weekends, because that’s when e-mails, phone calls, and appointments die down and I can work on things that require blocks of uninterrupted time, like writing or preparing a workshop. But this is what works for me. The point is to figure out a routine that works best for you.

6. Keep e-mails under control. While meetings can still be held by conference call, Skype, or Zoom, your work-from-home life will probably have fewer meetings and a lot more e-mails. E-mails are the one thing I monitor 24/7, constantly deleting the ones I don’t need to read and replying to the easily answered ones. Otherwise, they balloon out of control, and I’ve learned an overflowing e-mail in-box stresses me. To keep my e-mail in-box under control, I also use a lot of e-mail folders. There’s one for each project, and when the project is done, the folder goes into a “Past Projects” mega-folder so it’s out of sight but there if I need to refer to it. I also have a “Read” folder for those interesting e-mails that I’d like to read…someday. And there’s a “Hold” folder for emails for which I’m waiting for an answer. Those folders really help keep me sane.

7. Stay healthy. Remember I told you our kitchen island is my office? I’ve gained weight since I started working from home full-time. Stocking only healthy food helps, but my problem is I simply eat too much—it’s easy to turn a work break into a snack break. Exercise is really, really important.

8. Celebrate the positives of working from home. You don’t have to get dressed up for work. You don’t have that commute. If you’ve had fixed work hours and now have a bit more flexibility, take advantage of it. Go for a walk when today’s weather is at its nicest point, and truly enjoy springtime. If you live in a region where stores are still open, weekday mornings are wonderful times to shop—the stores are empty and service is great (the staff so bored that they’re eager to help). Your dog loves having you home, and being around a pet is a great destresser. And, unlike millions of Americans, you still have a job. Working at home is minimizing your chance of contracting COVID-19 and spreading it to loved ones.

9. Start a post-COVID-19 to do list. This will pass, though not without lasting hardship and loss. Most of those who contract COVID-19 will recover and, once they do, they’ll be immune, no longer contagious, and able to resume their normal lives. For the rest of us, there will eventually be a vaccine. Start a list of things you want to do after COVID-19 subsides: dinners with friends and family, concerts and museums you want to go to, vacations you want to take, home improvements that aren’t possible now, conferences you enjoy. It will give you something to look forward to, and that will help you get through this.

Would competition among regional accreditors diminish the quality of American higher education?

Originally posted on February 21, 2020 on LindaSuskie.com; updated February 27, 2020

I also appreciate the very thoughtful replies I’ve received to my February 18, 2020, blog post. Most of the comments were on the last paragraph, in which I speculated that competition among the regionals might be healthy and lead to differentiation in ways that better serve the United States’ diverse array of higher education institutions. Some people worried that competition among the regionals will lead to a race to the bottom, with everyone moving to what they perceive as the least-rigorous accreditor.

I truly don’t see that happening (at least, not en masse) for several reasons.

First, regionally accredited institutions already have that choice, and they’re not going there. They can move to one of the national accreditors, which some perceive as less rigorous than the regionals. (They don’t have the same standards for general education, for example.) In fact, the opposite is happening: institutions with national accreditation regularly apply for regional accreditation. Why do they do this, considering all the time, work and money involved in complying with more extensive or rigorous standards? It’s because U.S. regional accreditation is viewed as the international gold standard of higher education quality assurance. Today some employers and graduate schools require applicants to hold a degree from a regionally accredited institution. I could see them someday saying applicants must hold a degree from an institution accredited by a shorter list of the regionals: those that continue to be highly regarded for their high standards.

Second, we’ve already seen the choice-among-accreditors model play out successfully. There are three business program accreditors: AACSB, ACBSP, and IACBE. They each aim to serve different kinds of business programs at different kinds of institutions. An institution that doesn’t qualify for one accreditor doesn’t have to try to force the square peg of its program into the round hole of that accreditor’s requirements; it can choose another accreditor that’s a better fit with the program and institution.

Third, accreditation standards are set by the member institutions, and there are plenty of institutions that wouldn’t want to be associated with a race to the bottom. They want their accreditation to be evidence of their quality.

Finally, as Joan Hawthorne pointed out, changing accreditors is a long, hard, expensive process. No institution is going to do it unless it feels it has a darned good reason. Yes, there already is some accreditation shopping—by state as well as by accreditor—by some newer, non-traditional institutions. But worst players here, such as diploma mills, are institutions without regional accreditation. I think the regionals are getting better all the time at dealing with institutions that try to shop among the regionals and eventually squeak by one.

In my last blog post, I speculated a bit on how the regionals might eventually differentiate themselves. Let me get more specific here.

1. I think one accreditor would eventually have standards that emphasize the old inputs accreditation model--endowment size, faculty credentials, student selectivity, research dollars, etc.—and downplay the outcomes—especially student learning outcomes—that most regionals now emphasize. I’ll refrain from snarky comments about the institutions that would migrate to this accreditor.

2. I think we need a regional accreditor whose standards are a better fit for newer institutions with non-traditional models of instructional delivery, governance, and general education. I’ve worked with many of these institutions as they seek regional accreditation, and they’re often square pegs struggling to fit themselves into the round holes of regional standards. I wouldn’t want to see less rigorous standards, just standards that are more flexible without adversely impacting educational quality and institutional viability and integrity.

3. I would love to see one regional accreditor REALLY emphasize student learning and success (more than student learning assessment!), including a requirement to use research-informed strategies to promote student learning and success. I fantasize that this would become the truly prestigious regional, with students flocking to its institutions, because they know they’ll get great educations there.

4. You know those students who just want their faculty member to tell them exactly what they want to see in an assignment, so the students don’t have to think on their own? Guess what—many institutions want the same thing from their accreditors! Some would be delighted with an accreditor whose processes consist of filling out some straightforward forms and submitting them along with some documentation. So maybe one accreditor would evolve into the checkbox accreditor—the one focused on compliance much more than improvement.

5. Yes, there would probably be one accreditor who would be perceived as the easy accreditor. Some institutions would move there, and they’ll get what they deserve in terms of reputation.

6. And, yes, one or two might eventually go out of business.

But, as I emphasized in my last post, I don’t see any of this happening soon. The new USED regulations remove some legal barriers to this evolution but not the logistical barriers.