Introduction to Assessment

One of the greatest challenges facing higher education today is the ability to demonstrate the quality of education that is provided.  Institutional effectiveness, in all areas—curricular and co-curricular, is vital to the success of every university. This pressing challenge for accountability, effectiveness, and change has brought assessment, strategic planning, and budget planning into the forefront of the administrative lives of higher education.

Institutional Effectiveness has become a discipline that helps protect the institution from veering away from its mission and goals. An effectiveness program focuses on Educational Programs, Administrative Support Services, Academic and Student Support Services, Facilities Management and Services, and Community/Public Service.  It holds these areas accountable to their purposes and objectives.

The process of institutional effectiveness includes a continuous planning, implementation, assessment, improvement cycle that is applied at each level of the organization.

As institutions have developed assessment processes and sought to establish broad based strategic planning procedures, it has become apparent that there is a need to integrate assessment and strategic planning processes with the budget planning process.  It is important to recognize the elements of the assessment cycle and to effectively “close the loop” in a comprehensive and systematic fashion.

A Brief History

  • The accountability movement began in the 1970’s.
  • From 1973-1983, there was a wide spread dissatisfaction with the perceived skills of high school graduates.
  • In 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education released a declarative paper, “A Nation At Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform”.
  • The response from colleges and universities resulted in the “Undergraduate Reform Reports of 1985-86”.
  • In 1986, the National Governor’s Association issued its report and mandate—“Time for Results”.
  • The early 1990’s showed a transition of the accreditation associations replacing the states as the primary external stimulus for accountability.
  • The Higher Education Act Reauthorization in 1998 was a major step of federal involvement in the issue of accountability.  Much of the impetus around this was a result of the increased costs of Title IV funding (financial aid to students).
  • President Bill Clinton initiated the “Goals 2000” initiative
  • President George W. Bush initiated “No Child Left Behind”, a K-12 mandate that has a ripple effect on the colleges and universities.
  • 2005-present has shown an increased level of accountability for effectiveness and efficiency in all areas of the colleges and universities by the accrediting associations.

What Is Assessment?

Assessment is simply an appraisal.  So, what do we assess in a higher education institution?  We assess the quality of our effectiveness and efficiency in fulfilling our mission and goals.  Although the statement is simple, making it a natural and ongoing process of the university culture is a bit more complex.  Although in the initial stages of the assessment movement the focus was on learning outcomes, in recent times the emphasis has broadened to all areas of the institution, curricular and co-curricular.

Why We Do Assessment?

What gets measured gets done!  Assessment is the tool that gives incentive to planning.  It helps set realistic goals.  It is the glue that brings the strategic planning and budget together.

Stakeholders are essential to the process of assessment.  Whether external or internal, they set expectations and performance goals and are the ultimate judges of the institution’s quality.  Common stakeholders of an institution of higher education are students, faculty, staff, community, parents, alumni, benefactors, and the board.  Each group has every right to expect a report on the quality of our education and an accounting of the use of the revenues received.

Assessment brings change—or at least it should.  This can be very threatening at times, especially if the demand for accountability and performance comes from outside the institution.  Presidents of universities and colleges are anxious to maintain accreditation status, to receive funding, and to be able to recruit competitively.  Assessment results usually indicate the “health” of the institution.  Any deviation from positive indicators can affect relationships with these outside entities.