April 1999

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1999 CHEA Annual Conference

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1999 CHEA Annual Conference

More than 300 college and university presidents, administrators, and faculty members, leaders of accrediting organizations and higher education associations, and federal and state officials crowded the hallways and meeting rooms of the San Diego Marriot Hotel & Marina from January 31, 1999, to February 2, 1999, at the second annual conference of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

With its strong lineup of speakers and presenters and its theme of “Quality Indicators and Distance Learning,” the meeting drew more than twice as many participants as the first CHEA conference, held a year earlier in Phoenix.

San Diego Harbor

Utah Governor Michael O. Leavitt, a leading force behind the creation of the Western Governors University (WGU), presented a generally upbeat view of the future of distance learning in his opening keynote address. Linking the need for expanded access to post-secondary education to changes in the economy and growing international competition, Leavitt stressed the importance of finding ways to both maintain quality in distance offerings and measure the “outcomes” of courses and programs.

Leavitt also asserted that the distinction between education and training will become less meaningful, if not disappear entirely, as both students and employers take advantage of the flex-ibility offered by distance learning to assemble the knowledge and skills demanded by the market.

At a plenary roundtable chaired by Jane Wellman, Senior Associate at the Institute for Higher Education Policy, Ohio University President and former CHEA Board Chair Robert B. Glidden, Carol Schneider, President of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and United States Department of Education Senior Policy Analyst Clifford Adelman debated the challenge posed by distance learning to notions of curricular quality, the learning experiences expected of students seeking a degree, and the role of faculty.

Schneider questioned whether distance programs can provide the kind of “rounded” experience needed to educate students in democratic values and practices. Adelman noted that accreditors must confront a range of issues related to curriculum, delivery systems, and support spaces and services in assessing the quality of distance courses and programs. Glidden argued that traditional institutions seeking to move into the distance learning field must actively encourage faculty members to participate, provide them adequate support, and reward them for their efforts.

Changes in the faculty role also were addressed by the conference’s concluding speaker, Sir John Daniel, Vice Chancellor of the Open University. Tracing the evolution of his institution, which is opening a United States branch and has entered into an alliance with WGU, Daniel observed that designing and operating distance courses and programs requires teams of experts. As a result, faculty members operate as knowledge specialists, compared with the generalist role they play in traditional institutions where they typically handle all aspects of course presentation and administration. Judging by the longevity of faculty service at the Open University, he said, most find this change both exciting and rewarding.

The conference also featured many concurrent sessions covering a wide range of topics related to distance learning.

“The conference brought together a substantial number of people from various sectors who share a concern about the future of higher education and the impact of distance learning,” said CHEA President Judith S. Eaton. “CHEA will continue to play an important role in the debate over quality assurance in this rapidly growing arena.” •


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