Kelchen, R. (2018). Higher education accountability. Baltimore, MA: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Review by Christa Rohan, Simmons School of Education and Human Development, Southern Methodist University, email: [email protected]

For advisors today, many are faced with the realities of accountability practices in higher education, both for public and private institutions. These realities can result in feelings of pressure to encourage students to perform for the sake of meeting metrics, and can also conflict with the intrinsic motivation of advisors to foster the holistic development of a student (Braxton, 2006). This book informs us that accountability practices and policies are becoming more prevalent and tied to financial incentives, so it is important for advisors and student support professionals to understand the depth of this movement in higher education. Higher Education Accountability spans the historical and theoretical underpinnings of accountability policies through the different levels of accountability, including institutional, state, and federal. Finally, Kelchen closes the book with ten takeaways from the trials of accountability implementation and what he perceives the future to look like for accountability.

The increase in accountability for institutions of higher education is a result of criticism over the rising cost of higher education, and the demand to have more Americans reach college attainment, particularly following the Recession of 2008. As the author remarks “Higher education is certainly a risky investment that does not always pay off for students and families” (Kelchen, 2018, p. 3). These pressures are identifiable in institutional policies and the growing field of academic advisors and other student support professionals. Higher Education Accountability gives an important and extensive overview of current accountability practices in language that is easy to read and understand for non-policymakers. This book does an excellent job of deciphering between the many accountability policies that are tied to funding, from Federal policies like the 90/10 rule and financial responsibility scores to state policies; distinguishing between performance-based funding, performance reporting, and performance budgeting. Though state policies are only applicable to those working within public institutions, federal policies are applicable across the board. Also important for student support professionals are the trends of these policies, this book does a good job of identifying what is working, what is not working, and what can be expected in future policies. “In the decade ahead I see accountability pressures continuing to rise at the expense of the autonomy many colleges and universities have traditionally enjoyed” (Kelchen, 2018, p. 174).

Though the information in this book is certainly relevant to advisors and other student services professionals, it should be noted that that these individuals are not the intended audience for this book. As this is the case, some of the high-level policy concepts could be considered “outside the pay grade” for many entry-level student services professionals. Additionally, this book does not educate about the importance of distinguishing between the cost and price of college in the introduction to the necessity for accountability practices. The Author discusses the rising price of education over time, and correlates that with rising student loan amounts without discussing cost or inflation, this could be considered short-sighted. For a student services professional who doesn’t have a financial aid background, this information can be misleading. A more in-depth discussion about the misconception of rising tuition costs could add to the greater picture of the information that policy makers base their decisions from.

Overall, Higher Education Accountability is well written, void of obvious spelling or grammatical errors, and is an informative look at the evolution of accountability practices in higher education. Ending on “Ten Lessons learned from Accountability Policies” allows the reader a practical insight into the challenges of implementing policies and how important ideas like mission alignment, data accuracy, and resources are when trying to execute practices.

This book reinforces the ideals and mission of academic advisors, which for NACADA are espoused as Core Values and Core Competencies (NACADA, 2017b). For advisors to be effective, one Core Value that is most supported by Kelchen’s expert knowledge of policy is that of Integrity. As defined by the NACADA website, this value is defined as acting with ethical and professional behavior and “…. value honesty, transparency, and accountability to the student, institution, and the advising profession” (NACADA, 2017b). In order for advisors to act professionally, ethically, and in a way that makes them accountable to the student, they need to be informed about high-level policies that have effects, both minor and profound, on the students they serve. Knowing how a decision to change a major, or drop a class could impact a student’s financial picture, and how and when these decisions can have different consequences makes an advisor a necessary, and great ally.

Since the 1990s, when higher education began to make a switch from faculty advisors to professional advisors (Braxton, 2006), the need for competence has become integral to the profession. NACADA defines the competency areas as Conceptual, Informational, and Relational. Higher Education Accountability provides a solid foundation for the Conceptual Competency Area which is defined by: the history and role of advising, theory relevant to advising, approaches and strategies, expected outcomes of advising, and how equitably and inclusive environments are created and maintained (NACADA, 2017a). Kelchen’s book provides a great deal of history and context, as well as implications and expected outcomes that advisors can learn from and implement in their work.


Braxton, J.M. (2006) Faculty Professional Choices in Teaching that Foster Student Success. Prepared for the National Postsecondary Education Cooperative, Washington, DC.

Kelchen, R. (2018). Higher education accountability. Baltimore, MA: Johns Hopkins University Press.

NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017a). NACADA academic advising core competencies model. Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreCompetencies.aspx

NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017b). NACADA core values of academic advising. Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreValues.aspx

Posted in: Book Review
Actions: E-mail | Permalink |