Defining Quality in Undergraduate Education
Directions for Future Research Informed by a Literature Review
Objectives: This research brief explores the literature addressing quality in undergraduate education to identify what previous research has said about quality and to offer future directions for research on quality in undergraduate education.
Method: We conducted a scoping review to provide a broad overview of existing research. Using targeted search terms in academic databases, we identified and reviewed relevant academic literature to develop emergent themes and implications for future research.
Results: The exploratory review of the literature revealed a range of thoughtful discussions and empirical studies attempting to define quality in undergraduate education. Many publications highlighted the importance of including different stakeholder perspectives and presented some of the varying perceptions of quality among different stakeholders.
Conclusions: While a number of researchers have explored and written about how to define quality in undergraduate education, there is not a general consensus regarding a definition of quality in undergraduate education. Past research offers a range of insights, models, and data to inform future research.
Implication for Theory and/or Practice: We provide four recommendations for future research to contribute to a high quality undergraduate educational experience. We suggest more comprehensive systematic reviews of the literature as a next step.
American Council on Education. (2012). Assuring academic quality in the 21st century: Self-regulation in a new era. Retrieved from http://www.acenet.edu/news-room/Documents/Accreditation-TaskForce-revised-070512.pdf
Armstrong, R., Hall, B. J., Doyle, J., & Waters, E. (2011). “Scoping the scope” of a Cochrane Review. Journal of Public Health, 33(1), 147–150. https://doi.org/10.1093/pubmed/fdr015
Arum, R., & Roksa, J. (2011, May 14). Your so-called education. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/15/opinion/15arum.html
Arum, R., Roksa, J., & Cook, A. (2016). Improving quality in American higher education: Learning outcomes and assessments for the 21st century. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Barandiaran-Galdós, M., Ayesta, M. B., Cardona-Rodríguez, A., Mijangos del Campo, J. J., & Olaskoaga-Larrauri, J. (2012). What do teachers think about quality in the Spanish university? Quality Assurance in Education, 20(2), 91–109. https://doi.org/10.1108/09684881211219352
Biggs, J. (2001). The reflective institution: Assuring and enhancing the quality of teaching and learning. Higher Education, 41(3), 221–238. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1004181331049
Cai, Y. (2013). Graduate employability: A conceptual framework for understanding employers' perceptions. Higher Education, 65(4), 457–469. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-012-9556-x
Carnevale, A. P., & Smith, N. (2013). Workplace basics: The skills employees need and employers want. Human Resource Development International, 16(5), 491–501. https://doi.org/10.1080/13678868.2013.821267
Charmaz, K. (2014). Constructing grounded theory (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.
Cheng, M. (2016). Quality in higher education: Developing a virtue of professional practice. Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishers. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-6300-666-8
Cheng, M. (2017). Reclaiming quality in higher education: A human factor approach. Quality in Higher Education, 23(2), 153–167. https://doi.org/10.1080/13538322.2017.1358954
Corbin, J., & Strauss, A. (2015). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory (4th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.
Crosby, P. B. (1980). Quality is free: The art of making quality certain. New York, NY: New American Library.
Davidson, P. (2017, July 7). Are student loans as big of a problem as people think? USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2017/07/07/student-loans-big-problem-people-think/101842736/
Delaney, A. M. (2004). Ideas to enhance higher education’s impact on graduates’ lives: Alumni recommendations. Tertiary Education and Management, 10(2), 89–105. https://doi.org/10.1023/B:TEAM.0000023839.21429.63
Donabedian, A. (1988). The quality of care: How can it be assessed? JAMA, 260(12), 1743–1748. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.1988.03410120089033
Douglas, J., McClelland, R., & Davies, J. (2008). The development of a conceptual model of student satisfaction with their experience in higher education. Quality Assurance in Education, 16(1), 19–35. https://doi.org/10.1108/09684880810848396
Eagan, K., Stozenberg, E. B., Bates, A. K., Aragon, M. C., Suchard, M. R., & Rios-Aguilar, C. (2015). The American freshman: National norms fall 2015. Retrieved from Higher Education Research Institute website: https://www.heri.ucla.edu/monographs/TheAmericanFreshman2015.pdf
Eggins, H. (Ed.). (2014). Drivers and barriers to achieving quality in higher education. Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishers. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-6209-494-9
Fishman, R. (2015). Deciding to go to college: 2015 College Decisions Survey: Part 1. Retrieved from New America website: https://static.newamerica.org/attachments/3248-deciding-to-go-to-college/CollegeDecisions_PartI.148dcab30a0e414ea2a52f0d8fb04e7b.pdf
Foor, C., Trytten, D., McClure, L., Walden, S., & Combrink, T. (2006, June). I wish someone would've told me: Undergraduate engineering students offer advice to incoming students. Paper presented at the 113th Annual ASEE Conference and Exposition, Chicago, IL.
Freedman, D. H. (2010, July–August). Why scientific studies are so often wrong: The streetlight effect. Discover. Retrieved from http://discovermagazine.com/2010/jul-aug/29-why-scientific-studies-often-wrong-streetlight-effect
Garvin, D. A. (1984). What does “product quality” really mean? Sloan Management Review, 1984(Fall), 25–43.
Garvin, D. A. (1987). Competing on the eight dimensions of quality. Harvard Business Review, 65(6), 101–109.
Garvin, D. A. (1988). Managing quality: The strategic and competitive edge. New York, NY: The Free Press.
Gough, D., Oliver, S., & Thomas, J. (2017). An introduction to systematic reviews (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.
Green, D. (1994). What is quality in higher education? Concepts, policy and practice. In D. Green (Ed.), What is quality in higher education? (pp. 13–30). Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED415723.pdf
Hall, M. R. (2015). Quality in higher education: Perspectives from front-line faculty in the United States (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from https://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/handle/10919/73292
Hart Research Associates. (2015). Falling short? College learning and career success. Retrieved from Association of American Colleges & Universities website: https://www.aacu.org/sites/default/files/files/LEAP/2015employerstudentsurvey.pdf
Harvey, L. (2006). Understanding quality. In E. Forment, J. Kohler, L. Purser, & L. Wilson (Eds.), EUA Bologna handbook: Making Bologna work (section B4.1-1). Retrieved from http://www.qualityresearchinternational.com/Harvey%20papers/Harvey%202006%20Understanding%20quality.pdf
Harvey, L., & Green, D. (1993). Defining quality. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 18(1), 9–34. https://doi.org/10.1080/0260293930180102
Hazelkorn, E. (2007). The impact of league tables and ranking systems on higher education decision making. Higher Education Management and Policy, 19(2), 1–24. https://doi.org/10.1787/hemp-v19-art12-en
Hazelkorn, E. (2015). Rankings and the reshaping of higher education: The battle for world-class excellence (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137446671
Hershbein, B., & Hollenbeck, K. M. (Eds.). (2015). Student loans and the dynamics of debt. Kalamazoo, MI: W.E. Upjohn Institute. https://doi.org/10.17848/9780880994873
Hill, Y., Lomas, L., & MacGregor, J. (2003). Students' perceptions of quality in higher education. Quality Assurance in Education, 11(1), 15–20. https://doi.org/10.1108/09684880310462047
Houston, D. (2008). Rethinking quality and improvement in higher education. Quality Assurance in Education, 16(1), 61–79. https://doi.org/10.1108/09684880810848413
Humphreys, D., & Davenport, A. (2005). What really matters in college: How students view and value liberal education. Liberal Education, 91(3), 36–43.
Immerwahr, J. (2000). Great expectations: How the public and parents—White, African American and Hispanic—view higher education. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED444405.pdf
Inside Higher Ed & Gallup. (2013). The college decision-making process: A survey of parents of 5th- through 12th-grade students. Retrieved from https://www.iwu.edu/communications/identity/IHE-parent-survey.pdf
Jones, R. T. (2005). Liberal education for the 21st century: Business expectations. Liberal Education, 91(2), 32–37.
Juran, J. M., & Gryna, F. M. (1988). Juran's quality control handbook (4th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Kardanova, E., Loyalka, P., Chirikov, I., Liu, L., Li, G., Wang, H., … Johnson, N. (2016). Developing instruments to assess and compare the quality of engineering education: The case of China and Russia. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 41(5), 770–786. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2016.1162278
Lagrosen, S., Seyyed-Hashemi, R., & Leitner, M. (2004). Examination of the dimensions of quality in higher education. Quality Assurance in Education, 12(2), 61–69. https://doi.org/10.1108/09684880410536431
Law, D. C. S. (2010). Quality assurance in post‐secondary education. Quality Assurance in Education, 18(1), 250–270. https://doi.org/10.1108/09684881011079125
Marginson, S., & van der Wende, M. (2007). To rank or to be ranked: The impact of global rankings in higher education. Journal of Studies in International Education, 11(3–4), 306–329. https://doi.org/10.1177/1028315307303544
Martin, R., Maytham, B., Case, J., & Fraser, D. (2005). Engineering graduates’ perceptions of how well they were prepared for work in industry. European Journal of Engineering Education, 30(2), 167–180. https://doi.org/10.1080/03043790500087571
McCormick, A. C., Kinzie, J., & Gonyea, R. M. (2013). Student engagement: Bridging research and practice to improve the quality of undergraduate education. In M. B. Paulsen (Ed.), Higher education: Handbook of theory and research (Vol. 28, pp. 47–92). Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-5836-0_2
McNeil, J. C., & Ohland, M. W. (2015). Engineering faculty perspectives on the nature of quality teaching. Quality Approaches in Higher Education, 6(2), 20–30.
Morse, R., Brooks, E., & Mason, M. (2017, September 11). How U.S. News calculated the 2017 best college rankings. U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/how-us-news-calculated-the-rankings
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2016). Quality in the undergraduate experience: What is it? How is it measured? Who decides? Summary of a workshop. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/23514
Owlia, M. S., & Aspinwall, E. M. (1996). A framework for the dimensions of quality in higher education. Quality Assurance in Education, 4(2), 12–20. https://doi.org/10.1108/09684889610116012
Perna, L. W., Kvaal, J., & Ruiz, R. (2017). An updated look at student loan debt repayment and default. Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative, 46. Retrieved from http://repository.upenn.edu/pennwhartonppi/46
Pew Research Center. (2016). The state of American jobs: How the shifting economic landscape is reshaping work and society and affecting the way people think about the skills and training they need to get ahead. Retrieved from http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2016/10/06/the-state-of-american-jobs/
Pirsig, R. M. (2005). Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance. New York, NY: William Morrow.
Prinsley, R., & Baranyai, K. (2015). STEM skills in the workplace: What do employers want? Retrieved from http://www.chiefscientist.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/OPS09_02Mar2015_Web.pdf
Rosa, M. J., Sarrico, C. S., & Amaral, A. (2012). Academics’ perceptions on the purposes of quality assessment. Quality in Higher Education, 18(3), 349–366. https://doi.org/10.1080/13538322.2012.733550
Sakthivel, P. B., & Raju, R. (2006a). Conceptualizing total quality management in engineering education and developing a TQM educational excellence model. Total Quality Management & Business Excellence, 17(7), 913–934. https://doi.org/10.1080/14783360600595476
Sakthivel, P. B., & Raju, R. (2006b). An instrument for measuring engineering education quality from students' perspective. The Quality Management Journal, 13(3), 23–34.
Sample, V. A., Bixler, R. P., McDonough, M. H., Bullard, S. H., & Snieckus, M. M. (2015). The promise and performance of forestry education in the United States: Results of a survey of forestry employers, graduates, and educators. Journal of Forestry, 113(6), 528–537. https://doi.org/10.5849/jof.14-122
Schindler, L., Puls-Elvidge, S., Welzant, H., & Crawford, L. (2015). Definitions of quality in higher education: A synthesis of the literature. Higher Learning Research Communications, 5(3), 3–13. https://doi.org/10.18870/hlrc.v5i3.244
Sparks, E., & Waits, M. J. (2011). Degrees for what jobs? Raising expectations for universities and colleges in a global economy. Retrieved from National Governors Association website: https://www.nga.org/files/live/sites/NGA/files/pdf/1103DEGREESJOBS.PDF
Srikanthan, G., & Dalrymple, J. (2002). Developing a holistic model for quality in higher education. Quality in Higher Education, 8(3), 215–224. https://doi.org/10.1080/1353832022000031656
Srikanthan, G., & Dalrymple, J. (2003). Developing alternative perspectives for quality in higher education. International Journal of Educational Management, 17(3), 126–136. https://doi.org/10.1108/09513540310467804
Stensaker, B., & Harvey, L. (Eds.). (2010). Accountability in higher education: Global perspectives on trust and power. New York, NY: Routledge.
Tam, M. (2001). Measuring quality and performance in higher education. Quality in Higher Education, 7(1), 47–54. https://doi.org/10.1080/13538320120045076
Teeroovengadum, V., Kamalanabhan, T. J., & Seebaluck, A. K. (2016). Measuring service quality in higher education: Development of a hierarchical model (HESQUAL). Quality Assurance in Education, 24(2), 244–258. https://doi.org/10.1108/QAE-06-2014-0028
The Chronicle of Higher Education and American Public Media’s Marketplace. (2012). The role of higher education in career development: Employer perceptions. Retrieved from http://www.chronicle.com/items/biz/pdf/Employers%20Survey.pdf
Turner, D. A. (2011). Quality in Higher Education. Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishers. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-6091-684-7
U.S. Government Accountability Office. (2014). Higher education: Education should strengthen oversight of schools and accreditors. Washington, DC: GAO.
Van Kemenade, E., Pupius, M., & Hardjono, T. W. (2008). More value to defining quality. Quality in Higher Education, 14(2), 175–185. https://doi.org/10.1080/13538320802278461
Wastyn, M. L. (2009). Why alumni don’t give: A qualitative study of what motivates non-donors to higher education. International Journal of Educational Advancement, 9(2), 96–108. https://doi.org/10.1057/ijea.2009.31
Watty, K. (2006). Want to know about quality in higher education? Ask an academic. Quality in Higher Education, 12(3), 291–301. https://doi.org/10.1080/13538320601051101
Williams, J. (2013). Consuming higher education: Why learning can’t be bought. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic.
Willis, T. H., & Taylor, A. J. (1999). Total quality management and higher education: The employers' perspective. Total Quality Management, 10(7), 997–1007. https://doi.org/10.1080/0954412997181
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Authors who publish with HLRC agree to the following terms:
- Authors retain copyright and publishing rights without restrictions and grant the journal right of first publication. Authors grant Laureate Education, Inc. a license to publish and distribute the work under a Creative Commons Attribution License that allows others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in HLRC.
- Authors who submit manuscripts are to declare that their submission to HLRC is not simultaneously under consideration for publication in another journal and has not been published elsewhere previously.
- Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the HLRC's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in HLRC.
- Pre-refereeing and pre-publication: To ensure consistency in the information available to researchers and to safeguard the blind peer-review process, authors are asked to abstain from self-archiving or posting online the submitted manuscript before the review process is complete.
- Post-refereeing and post-publication: Authors are free to self-archive and distribute the peer-reviewed and editorially reviewed version of their work. As a full open access journal, there is no embargo period. Authors are encouraged to archive the published PDF version, which includes a suggested citation with all pertinent information, including a digital object identifier (DOI). If the author decides to self-archive or distribute the work in a format other than the published PDF, the author must include the assigned DOI and acknowledge the work was first published in HLRC.