Responding to demands by lawmakers and the public for greater accountability in higher education, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) unanimously approved last week the adoption of 14 performance measures for the 15 four-year public colleges and universities in Virginia.
The performance standards include a measure of financial stability, the number of transfer students from two-year colleges and the percentage of classes, by course level, with enrollment less than 20 or more than 50 students.
Smaller classes often are perceived as indicative of higher academic quality, whereas larger classes are seen as indicators of increases in institutional efficiency - a claim that Leonard Sandridge, University executive vice president and chief operating officer, disputes.
"In fact, the ideal size of a class is determined in large part by the subject matter being taught and the method of teaching that is used," Sandridge said.
Regarding the ratio of debt service to revenue, Sandridge said this measure is not a problem for the University, citing its recent bond rating upgrade.
The ratio "is a measure of credit worthiness and indicates the ability of the institution to take on debt," Sandridge said.
The number of transfer students from two-year institutions is thought to be an indicator of how well four-year institutions serve the needs of transfer students from two-year colleges.
The 2000 Appropriation Act, passed by the General Assembly and Gov. James S. Gilmore III in February, requires that data pertaining to the measures be published by July 1, 2001 as part of the Reports to the Governor's Blue Ribbon Commission on Higher Education.
SCHEV developed the measures with input from colleges and universities, state agencies and experts in assessment and institutional effectiveness.
The group considered more than 200 potential measures of institutional performance.
G. Paul Nardo, Communications and Government Relations Director for SCHEV, said the council chose the 14 measures because they were deemed the most appropriate and because they "have data that are readily or easily available."
Sandridge said he feels the measures are appropriate.
"The University welcomes external evaluations that are based on meaningful performance measures. We expect excellence in all that we do, and we routinely monitor performance of our operations," he said.
He added that he does not think collecting data for these measures will result in much additional work for the University.
"Most of the required information is monitored by the University on a regular basis," he said.