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The history of CU-Boulder's outcomes assessment program

In spring, 1985, the Colorado State Legislature passed House Bill 1187 (Colorado Revised Statutes 23-13-101), which established a higher education accountability program. The statute required institutions to assess undergraduate student "knowledge, capacities, and skills," and to report results yearly to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE). CCHE, in turn, summarized the institutions' reports for the legislature.

HB 1187 allowed institutions from fall 1986 to fall 1989 to develop their assessment programs, with the first data to be reported for academic year 1989-90.

Institutional Commitment

In response to HB 1187, CU-Boulder developed a comprehensive and continuing undergraduate assessment program. The policy governing this program was written in AY 1986-87 by a "blue ribbon" faculty and administrative committee appointed by the Chancellor. The policy statement drafted by this committee was approved by the Chancellor in March, 1988. The committee's premise was that CU-Boulder's outcomes assessment program should, first and foremost, be useful to CU-Boulder and should help individual academic units
  • evaluate their curricula,
  • plan improvements where necessary, and
  • evaluate the effects of the changes.
(The generic term unit includes departments, degree granting programs, and schools and colleges without a departmental structure.)

House Bill 1219, passed in spring, 1996, updated CRS 23-13-101 and replaced the accountability program with a system of institutional performance indicators (especially indicator 8). The indicators system legislation was updated again in spring, 1999, with Senate Bill 229. Outcomes assessment is part of the indicator system. In addition, CCHE's policy on academic program review requires an ongoing outcomes assessment program, as does the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the accrediting body for institutions of higher education in our region. CU-Boulder's position is that outcomes assessment continues to help academic units plan and evaluate their instructional programs.

The assessment program is built into the administrative structure of the institution. An Associate Vice Chancellor (AVC) for Academic Affairs and a senior researcher from Planning, Budget & Analysis (PBA) oversee and coordinate the process as a whole. The AVC provides the financial resources needed for outcomes assessment. Outcomes assessment is also incorporated into CU-Boulder's formal program review process (PRP) for academic units. As part of PRP, required for each unit every seven years, internal and external review committees examine the unit's outcomes assessment process, results, and how the information has been used.

In spring 1988 the Council of Deans passed a resolution strongly supporting outcomes assessment. Deans coordinate and supervise the assessment processes of their academic units. Units plan, implement, and annually report assessment of their own programs. Academic goals for undergraduates and methods to assess those goals are developed and implemented by the unit's faculty. Each unit has an assessment coordinator who works with the institution-wide coordinators.

Outcomes assessment is supported at the highest institutional level by the University of Colorado Board of Regents. They have formally affirmed their commitment to the concept of accountability in HB 1187 and in the individual CU campus policies.


In academic year 1987-88 units developed formal statements of their knowledge and skills goals for undergraduate majors. In AY 1988-89, they developed their initial assessment plans. Each year since 1989-90 the units have:
  • implemented their plans,
  • modified their programs, goals, and assessment processes as necessary, and
  • reported what they found and what they did, or were planning to do in response.
The College of Arts and Sciences is responsible for assessing general education, based on CU-Boulder's core curriculum.


CU-Boulder units have used a wide variety of assessment methods. Descriptions and examples are in the sections

Examples of outcomes assessment findings, and of changes units have made in their programs as a result of outcomes assessment information, are in the sections

Outcomes assessment results are widely available. The annual reports submitted to CCHE each year through 1994-95 were provided to the Chancellor and Vice Chancellors and their staffs, the deans, each unit's assessment coordinator, and anyone else who requested them. In addition, they are on file in the CU-Boulder library where students and others have ready access to them. Current outcomes assessment information, and an historical overview, are presented in the Web site.

Summaries of the individual units' assessment experience are part of this Web site. Each summary references the unit's knowledge and skills goals for undergraduates, which are published in the CU-Boulder catalog along with each unit's description of its requirements for graduation.


Between 1990-91 and 1995-96, CU-Boulder spent about $90,000 on direct costs for each year's outcomes assessment program. This does not include faculty, staff and administrative time (indirect costs) spent in developing and administering the program. In 1989-90, when start-up costs were more extensive, direct costs were about $165,000. Expenditures for 1996-97 and subsequent years were reduced as part of a general budgetary restructuring.

Events and changes in the period 1997-1999
  1. Bill Kaempfer (Economics) replaced Mark Dubin as associate VC of academic affairs and head of outcomes assessment.

  2. Student Affairs Research Services (SARS) left student affairs and merged with Budget and Planning to become Planning, Budget, and Analysis (PBA).

  3. Outcomes coordinator Ephraim Schechter of SARS/PBA left CU to take a similar position in the U. of North Carolina system. Senior researcher Perry Sailor has assumed his duties, beginning in November, 1998.

  4. CU-Boulder moved to a two-year reporting cycle. Departments/programs are to continue assessment activity each year (exception: specially-approved two-year cycles and pilots), but will REPORT only in alternate years.

  5. The legislature repealed the statute that initiated required outcomes assessment in Colorado, but included in criteria for performance funding the "existence and operation of a formal, comprehensive, and effective institutional assessment and accountability program." This requirement has been implemented through CCHE's "quality indicator system."

  6. The campus initiated a self-study for its reaccreditation review in spring 2000. The accrediting agency (North Central Association) requires demonstration of "assessment of appropriate student academic achievement" in general education and in the major, with "structured assessment processes that are continuous," and provide "meaningful and useful information" to students, faculty and administration. These are required for both undergraduate and graduate programs.

  7. Efforts to re-establish a faculty steering committee, initiated by Schechter, failed.

  8. Academic affairs officials started worrying about the state of assessment of some general education areas, such as critical thinking.

  9. A comprehensive summary of campus assessment activities, for both undergraduate and graduate students, was written for the campus' quality indicator system submission (June 1998).

  10. In spring, 1999, PBA wrote a document outlining strengths and weaknesses of, opportunities for, and threats to the assessment program for a campus self-study done in connection with reaccreditation by NCA

Last revision 06/03/04

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