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CCHE Quality Indicator System
CU-Boulder fall 2000 submission, for funding 2000-01
Graduation Year Undergraduate Assessment Program

History of undergraduate outcomes assessment at CU-Boulder

CU-Boulder has a long history of assessing undergraduate educational outcomes. In 1985, the Colorado State Legislature passed House Bill 1187, which established accountability requirements for higher education in the state. The statute required institutions to assess undergraduate student "knowledge, capacity, and skills," and to report results yearly to CCHE, which in turn summarized the institutions' reports for the legislature. HB 1187 allowed institutions until fall 1989 to develop their assessment programs, with the first data to be reported for academic year 1989-90.

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, and was approved by him in March, 1988. The committee's premise was that the outcomes assessment program should help individual academic units (i.e., departments, degree-granting programs, and schools and colleges without a department structure) evaluate their curricula, instruction, and student services; plan improvements where necessary; and then evaluate the effects of any changes. The policy statement mandates assessment of both general education and education in the major discipline. It further specifies that all units will explicitly state goals for undergraduates in terms of skills, knowledge, and/or capacities, and that they will examine programs in light of those goals, choose and/or develop and implement ways to measure their achievement, and use results of assessment to strengthen programs. The policy also specifies that every graduating senior will participate in at least one assessment in addition to those required in coursework.

In 1996, House Bill 1219 updated the old statute and replaced the accountability program with a system of institutional performance indicators, in particular Indicator 8, which concerns "existence and operation of a formal, comprehensive, and effective institutional assessment and accountability program," and its subsections, which go into more specific detail. The indicators system legislation was updated again in 1999 with Senate Bill 229, with outcomes assessment remaining 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 higher education institutions in our region.

CU-Boulder's assessment program is built into the administrative structure of the institution. The Associate Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Education (AVCAA-UGE) and a senior researcher from Planning, Budget & Analysis (PBA) oversee and coordinate the overall process. The AVC provides the financial resources needed. 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 and results, and how the information has been used.

CU-Boulder's undergraduate programs have published skills and knowledge goals in the university catalog for some years. For example, the statement for economics is as follows

The undergraduate degree in economics emphasizes knowledge and awareness of:

  • the conditions for efficiency in free market production and exchange;
  • contemporary theories concerning economic growth, inflation, unemployment, distribution of income, and international environment;
  • a few of the specialized fields of economics, such as international economics and finance, natural resources and environment, the economics of gender and discrimination, and public economics;
  • the descriptive statistics commonly used by economists; and
  • the institutional characteristics of the U.S. economy, and how these differ from those in other economies.

In addition, students completing the degree in economics are expected to acquire the ability and skills to:

  • apply the tools of microeconomic theory to reach sound conclusions for simple economic problems;
  • follow arguments concerning macroeconomic theory, to distinguish between sound and fallacious reasoning, and understand how differences in policy prescription may arise;
  • perform statistical analysis such as multiple regression and understand similar analyses performed by others; and
  • communicate economic reasoning in writing, understand similar writing by others, and appreciate the diversity of views that may reasonably exist about economic problems.

Each undergraduate program has an assessment coordinator. Programs report on their activities, and on changes made as a result, in alternate years. Longitudinal accounts of activities in each program are posted on the undergraduate outcomes assessment page; see the individual academic unit summaries. The web site has helped gain CU-Boulder a national reputation for comprehensive, quality undergraduate outcomes assessment.

Programs use a variety of assessment methods, including portfolios, questions embedded in course exams, panel reviews of course papers, nationally normed tests, and exit surveys.

Many programs have used assessment results to identify and implement changes. For example, Theatre and Dance revised the sequence of courses for majors and added material on theatre history and dramatic literature in the senior seminar. English added a writing component to two introductory courses. Mathematics began requiring students in one of its tracks to take an upper-division modern algebra course.

Graduation Year Undergraduate Assessment Program index

Undergraduate Outcomes Assessment main page

l:\ir\outcomes\misc\ccplan01.doc 11/15/2000

Last revision 07/02/02

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