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NCA suggestions and requirements
NCA suggestions and requirements for assessment at CU-Boulder
SUGGESTIONS/REQUIREMENTS RELATED TO ASSESSMENT OF
STUDENT LEARNING IN THE APRIL, 2000 NCA ACCREDITATION SITE-VISIT REPORT
On April 17-19, 2000, an evaluation team from the Commission on Institutions
of Higher Education of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
(NCA) visited the CU-Boulder campus as part of the 10-year re-accreditation
process. Following is a summary (including some verbatim excerpts) of
the portions of their subsequent report that discuss outcomes assessment.
The NCA report lists and discusses five major criteria for accreditation,
one of which is "The institution is accomplishing its educational and
other purposes." One of the items listed and discussed under this criterion
is assessment of student learning, about which the report says:
Over the past 10 years, CU-Boulder has established a broad-based campus
assessment program implemented by the Planning, Budgeting and Analysis
office (PBA) to assist faculty members, administrators, and others evaluate
the curriculum, plan improvements, and evaluate the effects of changes
for improvements. Most of the emphasis is placed on individual program
reviews at the undergraduate level supplemented by data collection and
analysis of institutional records with regard to the first-year experience.
Program reviews and self-studies are performed every seven years, and
student satisfaction surveys are regularly administered to graduating
seniors and to alumni. Response rates have been about 50 percent, quite
good for surveys of this type.
Although considerable program-level data about student and program
performance is available, individual units vary widely in the degree
to which they use this information to improve the quality of the educational
experience. The campus should consider ways to encourage and hold respective
units accountable for demonstrating how they are using assessment data
for program improvement purposes. As previously noted (see
note), the most serious shortcoming in this regard is related to
graduate student performance and research. Here, data collection efforts
have been less frequent and the uses of the information have not been
CU-Boulder typically relies on peer comparisons generated from such
sources as U.S. News & World Report and others which focus primarily
on inputs and a limited number of process indicators and few outcome
measures such as persistence rates. More peer comparisons are needed
to develop benchmarks against which the university's progress can be
measured. CU-Boulder is participating in the spring 2000 administration
of the National Survey of Student Engagement, funded by the Pew Charitable
Trusts, which will provide some institutional-level data about student
engagement beyond the first year, as both first-year and senior students
are being surveyed. Perhaps a seminar for the Board of Regents could
be offered that focuses on the importance of outcomes assessment and
what has been learned to date about CU-Boulder and program improvement.
Informed Regents can be very helpful in championing institutional improvement
efforts and making such efforts an ongoing institutional priority.
Finally, there is not presently a coherent, widespread understanding
of what types of information should constitute an effective outcomes
assessment strategy. In part, this is because many people view program
reviews, student and alumni surveys, and retention studies as independent
rather than related activities that are needed to provide a comprehensive
picture of the student experience and the quality of student learning
at the university.
Suggestion for improvement include:
a) CU-Boulder should articulate and clarify a set of educational goals
and desired outcomes for all undergraduates. These should be consistent
with those described in the catalog for the respective academic units
and with the new core curriculum adopted by the College of Arts and
Sciences, and direct measures of student learning should be aligned
with those goals and measurable objectives.
b) The student experience should be examined in a more comprehensive
way including both experiences inside and outside the classroom with
a particular emphasis on the character and influence of student groupings
that form in off-campus residences after the first year of college.
The concept of "academic neighborhoods" is conceptually consistent with
the effort to keep students linked to the campus in intentional ways
through the academic program or academic mission of the institution.
But how this plan will be implemented is not clear. In order to realize
the promise of the Total Learning Environment initiative, this information
c) A high profile campus-level assessment steering committee should
be created to coordinate, prioritize, and hold various units and campus
level agents accountable for collecting and using assessment data to
improve student learning and for institutional improvement purposes.
Such a group should be comprised of key faculty members, senior academic
and student affairs administrators, students, and staff. Perhaps the
committee could be a standing committee of the Boulder Faculty Assembly
with strong endorsement and support from senior administration. The
committee would not itself collect and manage assessment data, but rather
would provide a vision and work with those personnel in institutional
analysis and elsewhere on the campus who collect, analyze and interpret
assessment data. (pp. 34-36)
In another section of the NCA report, titled "Institutional Strengths,
Suggestions, and Concerns," assessment is a topic listed under "Concerns."
The evaluation team writes that "there are a variety of opportunities
for the institution to collect more information that can be utilized
for assessment purposes," but that "appropriate information utilized
in an assessment instrument is only the first part of a healthy assessment
culture in a university" (p. 49) with the second part being the use
of assessment results to inform change and improvement. The team then
makes the following recommendation:
The University of Colorado at Boulder should prepare a three-year
progress report on the use of assessment as a tool to improve undergraduate
and graduate student learning and for institutional improvement in the
fall of 2003, with a copy to NCA. This report should focus on undergraduate
and graduate education on the CU-Boulder campus. We believe that the
steps CU-Boulder takes in the next three years to institutionalize assessment
will benefit the university, and the progress report will serve as a
stimulant and summary for this initiative. (p. 50, emphasis in the
Finally, in the last section of the NCA report, "Team's Recommendation
and Rationale," the evaluation team states that the assessment area has
been set aside for special focus, and that a plan of response to that
(and other concerns) is "required for the University to maintain and build
on the high level of excellence it now enjoys" (p. 51, emphasis in original).
We believe it is to the university's great advantage if assessment
of student learning and the use of this information along with program
review is coupled directly to curriculum reform and program improvement.
While impressive progress has been demonstrated at the undergraduate
level in assessment, we did not see compelling evidence of the coupling
envisaged above at the institutional level.
Therefore, the team recommends that the University of Colorado at
Boulder prepare a three-year progress report on the use of assessment
as a tool for institutional improvement in the fall of 2003, with a
copy to NCA. (pp. 51-52, emphasis in original. There is a recommended
due date for the report of 4/1/03 on a worksheet attached to the NCA
report; this discrepancy in due dates needs to be clarified.)
Note: In an earlier section of the report
discussing graduate education at CU-Boulder, the NCA team recommends steps
to facilitate decision making in the graduate school. Included in these
are centralizing data collection on graduate programs (e.g., time to degree,
financial support, enrollment, diversity, five-year outcomes), as well
as conducting surveys of such issues as how graduate students select CU-Boulder
and how satisfied they are with their education after graduation.
PBA: PS-- L:\IR\OUTCOMES\misc\ncarecs2.doc - 12/05/00.