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Adult Education and Lifelong Learning in Europe and Beyond

Comparative Perspectives from the 2015 Würzburg Winter School


Edited By Regina Egetenmeyer

This volume presents comparisons of adult education and lifelong learning with a focus on educational policies, professionalization in adult education, participation in adult learning and education, quality in adult education, and educational guidance and counselling. The essays are based on comparisons discussed at the international Winter School «Comparative Studies in Adult and Lifelong Learning», held in Würzburg, Germany, February 2015. Sub-topics of lifelong learning were chosen for an in-depth comparison and analysis of the situation in various European countries and beyond.
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Comparative analysis of two quality management models in the U.S.A. and Germany

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Peggy Everett & Christian Müller

Comparative analysis of two quality management models in the U.S.A. and Germany


The article compares two quality management models widely used in the US and Germany. First, it provides a short insight into the practice of quality management in the US and Germany by giving a short description and classifying the quality management models into their respective systems. Furthermore, the article analyses four specific aspects for a deeper insight into the development, procedures, institutions, and costs of both models. It will become evident that despite some differences, many similarities exist, especially regarding the processes of the two quality management models.


Quality management models in adult education are developed against the background of specific and unspecific needs, which are influenced and given by politics, social movements and reforms, economic conditions, mission statements, contracts and orders, as well as other factors. Such needs are located in a tension field of control, media, money, and power (cf. Aust & Schmidt-Hertha, 2012, p. 46) and are manifested in optimisation and improvement, legitimation, client demands, and organisational requirements. It is the aim of this article to compare two well-known quality management models in the United States (regional accreditation) and Germany (learner-oriented quality certification) and to identify similarities and differences in the categories of development, procedures, institutions, and costs. For the most part, this text shouldn’t just provide a description but highlight the opportunities resulting from learning from one another.

Regional accreditation (US) and learner-oriented quality certification (Germany)

Regional accreditation in the United States

Because the tenth amendment of the US constitution guarantees states’ rights to education, no overarching seal of quality is used in postsecondary education in the US. Instead, a system of regionally-based accreditation, and to a lesser extent ← 181 | 182 → nationally-based accreditation, guarantees quality in adult education settings. Any programme in adult education may apply for accreditation and/or become accredited by the regional or national accreditation agencies. These range from adult basic education (ABE) to vocational training (VET), both public and private, to institutions of higher education, both public and private. According to the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, accreditation is ‘a process of external quality review used by higher education to scrutinise colleges, universities, and educational programmes for quality assurance and quality improvement’ (Council for Higher Education Accreditation, 2012, p. 1). Private, non-profit organisations specifically designed for accreditation ensure the quality management process. Postsecondary institutions and programmes apply for accreditation to demonstrate academic quality and to be eligible for federal funds. These institutions can be either non-profit or for-profit; currently, about half of the accredited organisations are not-for profit (cf. Council for Higher Education Accreditation, 2012, p. 1). There are four institutional accreditations used in the US:

  • regional, which are degree-granting institutions
  • national faith-related, mostly non-profit, degree-granting institutions
  • national career-related, mostly non-degree granting and both for-profit and non-profit private and public institutions
  • programmatic, which serve single-purpose institutions like law and medical schools and review programmes (cf. Council for Higher Education Accreditation, 2012, p. 2).

The accreditation procedure is conducted in a cycle ranging, at most, every ten years.

US accreditation cycle

Institutions and programmes aren’t the only ones under review in the US; accrediting organisations must receive recognition in order to grant accreditation to institutions and programmes. They receive recognition from either the US Department of Education or from the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, which have very different standards for granting recognition (cf. US Department of Education, 2015).

LQW – Learner-Oriented Quality Certification for Further Education Organisations

The implementation of quality management models in organisations of adult education in Germany has been critically reviewed since its beginnings, because ← 182 | 183 → organisational and economic interests seem to be in conflict with pedagogical requirements. Subsequently, to adopt business-like quality management models, it was necessary that the adult education community develop models that ‘… overcome the dominance of the organisation and move the core of pedagogical activities to the fore …’ (Hartz, 2011, p. 35). Therefore, the concept of quality in adult education refers to the learning outcomes (quality of results) as well as to the learning process (quality of process) (cf. Aust & Schmidt-Hertha, 2012, p. 45).

Among other models, the Learner-Oriented Quality Certification for Further Education Organisations (LQW) has been developed by the Federal-State Commission for Educational Planning (Bund-Länder-Kommission für Bildungsplanung) to meet the abovementioned challenges. The LQW is an instrument for quality testing and quality development. The central idea of an education-focused quality management is to realise that education isn’t manageable in the same way as typical services or products are. Education, in particular, cannot be produced by the organisation alone; rather, it is the task of the organisation to care about the conditions for successful learning (cf. Zech, 2008, p. 12). Therefore, LQW defines the following eleven sectors of quality:

“1. Mission Statement and Definition of Successful Learning
2.Needs Analysis
3.Key Processes
4.Teacher-Learner Process
5.Evaluation of the Educational Process
8.Human Ressources
10.Costumer Relations
11.Strategic Development Goals” (Zech, 2007, p. 13)

All sectors of quality must be documented in a self-evaluation report, which will be verified afterwards by an audit visit. At a final workshop, the strategic development goals are determined and the passed quality procedure will be reflected (cf. Zech, 2008, p. 14).


Development of accreditation in the US

After Harvard was established in 1636, many universities, both public and private, emerged all over the US. Normal schools, schools offering standard teacher ← 183 | 184 → training, and schools offering higher education emerged in the 1880s. The state of education (and miseducation) evolved, and many associations and committees dedicated to the regulation of quality in education were founded. By the 1940s, both theorists and practitioners of postsecondary education knew something had to be done. Troops were returning home with the new GI Bill, which granted money for postsecondary education to soldiers. The National Commission on Accreditation was established to relieve the burden and to assure that federal dollars earmarked for the education of veterans were well spent. Because the Bill of Rights guarantees states’ rights over education, the federal government could not enforce any act of quality. This resulted in the regional accreditation system seen today, which presides over public education and national accreditation for religious, specialised, and career-oriented institutions (cf. Brittingham, 2009).

Development of LQW in Germany

Although quality played a role in the adult education discourse early on, the beginning of the (education-policy) discourse about quality in further education in Germany could be dated around the year 1976, when the Distance Learning Protection Act (Fernunterrichtsschutzgesetz FernUSG) was adopted. This act survived nearly unchanged over the years (despite continued discussion about quality); it could therefore be termed a fossil of the quality discussion (cf. Gnahs, 2005, p. 10). However, it marks the beginning of a discourse about quality aspects in adult education. After the implementation of state laws on further training (Weiterbildungsgesetze der Länder) during the 1960s and 1970s, the discussion about quality and quality management systems became more intensive, especially during the 1990s (cf. Hartz, 2011, p. 24), responding, on the one hand, to those laws, new market conditions, customer requirements, cost pressures, and so on. On the other hand, quality management became emancipated from procedures too closely aligned to business practices with the help of quality management models like the LQW. Furthermore, vocational education and training programmes that seek funding from the Federal Labour Office have to prove quality certification. This processes is regulated by the Accreditation and Certification Ordinance—Employment Promotion (Akkreditierungs- und Zulassungsverordnung – Arbeitsförderung AZAV) (until 04/2012: Approval and Certification Ordinance—Continuing Education, Anerkennungs- und Zulassungsverordnung – Weiterbildung AZWV). The AZWV focused first on the level of the organisation/operators and second on the level of the educational measure (cf. Hartz, 2011, p. 25); the AZAV follows that approach. The testing involved ← 184 | 185 → in the LQW quality procedure, which is treated in the present article, doesn’t automatically lead to recognition by the Federal Labour Office (according to the AZAV), but if an organisation is tested through LQW, the AZAV accreditation is normally less cost intensive and less extensive.

The LQW was developed over a period of five years (2000–2005) in the context of numerous projects and was financed by the Federal-State Commission for Educational Planning, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung), and the European Social Fund (Europäischer Sozialfonds) (cf. Zech, 2008, p. 6). The first reflections followed on a collaborative project (1999–2000) between ArtSet (the LQW developer and operator) and the regional association of adult education centres (Volkshochschulen) in Lower Saxony. In the first instance, the quality development measures were designed individually for each organisation, but it quickly became evident that there were similarities concerning the processes of quality development. In a subsequent project with the same partners, a model of quality testing was developed until 2002. In cooperation with the German Institute for Adult Education (DIE) a testing phase of the testing model took place on the basis of relevant quality procedures, which were used in Germany and Europe until 2003, and two years later the implementation phase of the first LQW version followed (cf. Zech, 2006, p. 9).


Procedures of US accreditation

Analysing organisations granting accreditation reinforces the American notion of checks and balances. Table 3 shows the process of accreditation utilising self-studies on the part of the institution or programme, volunteer peer reviewers, and the accrediting organisations. ← 185 | 186 →

Figure 1: Author’s own based on Eaton, 2012, pp. 4–5.

Procedures of LQW in Germany

The LQW is designed as a quality circle, which consists of a period of quality development and a period of quality testing. After the opening workshop, the period of quality development begins with an internal evaluation and the preparation of a specific mission statement. Hereafter, measures will be planned and implemented. For this period, the ArtSet GmbH (the LQW developer and operator) provides working aids, a telephone hotline, email correspondence, and other opportunities to network with LQW organisations. Additionally, there are local support units and nationwide network conferences or support in terms of workshops (cf. Zech, 2008, p. 15). The whole process is documented and summarised in the self-evaluation report. At this time, the period of quality development is being replaced by the period of quality testing. The basis of the following external assessment procedure is the self-evaluation report. Furthermore, an audit visit and the discussion of the expert report of the LQW consultants take place. The quality circle ends with a final workshop and the definition of strategic development goals for upcoming quality circles (cf. Zech, 2008, p. 14). ← 186 | 187 →

Figure 2: The Quality Cycle (Zech, 2007, p. 14).

Altogether, the whole certification procedure extends over a period of up to 16 months: The organisation to be certified is allowed a maximum of 13 months to prepare the self-evaluation report. The subsequent assessment (two 25–30-page expert reports using their own quality assurance) takes up to 4 months. The audit visit takes place within the following 6 weeks after the receipt of the experts’ report, and one week later the expert submits the minutes of the audit visit. The date of the final workshop will be agreed between the organisations and the expert, and the certificate is valid for four years (cf. Zech, 2008, pp. 18–19).


Institutions and programmes accredited in the US

It is most common for institutions offering postsecondary education to apply for or continue accreditation. This provides legitimacy and public respect, federal financial aid for students, and the ability to apply for federal monies like grants. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation keeps a database of institutions and programmes accredited by the six regional accrediting organisations. They list more than 8,300 degree- and non-degree-granting institutions and almost 24,000 programmes. The database is easily accessed and searchable by institution name, country, US state/territory, and/or institutional accreditor (cf. Council for Higher Education Accreditation, 2012).

Institutions and programmes accredited by LQW in Germany

According to the 2010 Weiterbildungsmonitor (an annual survey of continuing training providers in Germany), about 80 per cent of all training providers have ← 187 | 188 → quality certificates, quality assurance models, or a quality management model in place (cf. Ambos et al., 2010, p. 4).

In Germany, 415 organisations from all 16 states are involved in the LQW processes. That means they are currently in the phase of testing, or they are certified for a maximum period of four years. The share of organisations that used the LQW as a quality model in 2010 was 10 per cent (cf. wbmonitor, 2010, p. 3). The participating organisations represent different areas of adult education, including vocational education and training, educational counselling, health education, adult education centres, language schools, and the like.


Costs of accreditation in the US

Accreditation is mostly done by volunteers. This makes it very cost effective. Brittingham reports that in 2005, 3,000 institutions were regionally accredited using 3,500 volunteers and 129 staff members (cf. Brittingham, 2009, p. 18). Dues and fees are charged by the accrediting organisation to the programme or institution on a sliding scale determined by the institutional budget. For the New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Institutions of Higher Education (NEASC-CIHE), the oldest accreditor, dues range from approximately US$ 6,000 to US$ 30,000. Fees vary from approximately US$ 2,000 to US$ 30.000 plus visiting team member expenses (cf. CIHE Dues and Fees, 2015). This can be expensive, especially for emerging programmes or new schools, and contributes to the escalating cost of postsecondary education.

Costs of LQW in Germany

The cost of the total quality certification process are set on a sliding scale based on the size of the organisation, ranging from € 3,094 (incl. VAT) for microenterprises with a maximum of two workplaces (where a maximum of three people are working) up to € 10,591 (incl. VAT) for organisations with more than 200 employees (cf. general terms of ArtSet GmbH).


Both countries recognise the importance of quality assessment and management. How this is done is quite similar in that both LQW and regional accreditation utilise internal evaluations, self-assessments, external evaluations, site visits, and continued renewals. In both countries, an overarching seal of quality does not ← 188 | 189 → exist. In Germany, LQW is recognised, but there are other important seals, too (Hamburger Modell, ISO, EFQM). In the United States, regional accreditation is recognised, but it is not required for all programmes and institutions providing adult education. Germany also values using regionally-based accreditation processes, which are more frequently used than LQW. Like its US counterpart, LQW is used in both for-profit and non-profit organisations.

Although they are labelled differently, the seals of quality are similar in terms of both procedures and costs. The steps involved in the quality testing procedures are quite similar for both countries:

Figure 3: Quality Testing Procedures of US Regional Accreditation and LQW (Author’s Own).

Although the procedure seems to be similar, the steps of quality development in LQW (introductory workshop, planning and implementation of measures, final workshop, and strategic development goals) do not have an equivalent in regional accreditation. Moreover, there are notable differences in the German and American use of quality and accreditation. Most notably, accreditation of higher education (institutions offering BA/MA degrees) doesn’t play an important role in Germany when looking at the distribution of recognitions of all organisations offering adult education that use quality management systems (cf. Weiland, 2011, p. 5). The direct opposite is true in the US: degree-granting institutions must ← 189 | 190 → be accredited or the degree granted is considered worthless by US society and employers. Additionally, credits earned at an institution lacking accreditation are not transferrable to another institution of higher education. The costs associated with LQW are generally less expensive than regional accreditation in the US. This is especially true for microenterprises, and the costs associated with LQW are comparatively less intensive for large organisations. Recognition by federal offices is also different in each country. In Germany, the Federal Labour Office does not automatically recognise LQW certifications, but holding the certification makes it easier to be recognised. In America, the federal Department of Education formally recognizes programmes and schools through regional accreditation. While the LQW is mostly utilised by vocational training and adult education centres, US regional accreditation ranges from community education to higher education. Although both developed at different times and at different rates, they were both established for the same reason: to ensure the effectiveness, quality, and standards of education for adults.


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