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CCHE Quality Indicator System (QIS)
CU-Boulder Fall 1998 Submission

State indicator 6: Assessment and accountability practices at CU-Boulder

CU-Boulder pays serious attention to evidence about student completion rates, learning, satisfaction, and success after graduation. We collect information on these measures annually or biennially through several formal assessment programs, and study the resulting time series for patterns of slippage and improvement. Academic programs, student affairs units, and the campus as a whole have as a consequence made changes in curriculum, teaching, advising, processing students' business transactions, admissions communications, and many other areas. We hope to increase emphasis on use of assessment results in the coming years.

Entries A-F are CCHE-specified areas for assessment.

A. Student learning

Undergraduate level

  • Outcomes assessment examines the quality and effectiveness of academic programs through examination of student learning. At CU-Boulder the formal assessment of student learning, in place since 1989-90, helps faculty in individual academic units
    • evaluate their curricula
    • plan improvements where necessary
    • evaluate the effects of the changes.
  • CU-Boulder is known as a national leader in outcomes assessment, in some part due to our comprehensive assessment web site. This site has information on history, methods, results, use of results, and summaries of activities for individual units.
  • In academic year 1987-88 academic units developed formal statements of knowledge and skills goals for undergraduate majors. These are now published in the catalog; to view them check the individual unit summaries.
  • Each year, faculty in schools, colleges, and departments
    • implement assessment plans reported in previous years
    • modify their programs, goals, and assessment processes as necessary based on formal assessments, student satisfaction data, retention and completion data, placement rates, and other information
    • report what they found and what they did, or were planning to do in response.
  • Units use different assessment methods. For example
    • Our writing program collects representative samples of students' initial and final essays for evaluation by a panel of instructors and outside experts.
    • Engineering, computer science, mathematics, and sociology compare their majors' performance on nationally standardized exams with national norms.
    • History annually selects 15% of the papers submitted by senior majors in upper division courses for evaluation by three-member subcommittees of the department's undergraduate studies committee.
    • Journalism interns are rated by their supervisors, who are working professionals in the field
  • Units make changes in curricula and teaching based on assessment results. For example
    • Chemistry/biochemistry added more experiments and hands-on experiences to lower-division courses and increased the number of majors doing independent study research projects by 60%.
    • Theatre and dance revised the sequence of courses in theatre history and dramatic literature and now emphasizes these areas in the senior seminar.
    • Classics added more sight-reading exercises in introductory Latin and Greek courses. As a result, translation grades in those courses rose noticeably.
    • Mathematics added a required upper-division course in modern algebra.
    • Sociology strengthened methods and statistics skills with a three-semester course sequence.

Graduate level

  • All students awarded doctoral degrees complete comprehensive examinations before admission to candidacy, write dissertations signed by no fewer than two faculty members, and pass a public oral examination conducted by at least five individuals including at least three faculty members and one individual from outside the major department. These requirements ensure that degree recipients meet graduate school goals--that is, demonstrate proficiency in a broad subject of learning and an ability to critically evaluate work in the field, and make a significant original contribution to the advancement of knowledge.
  • Most students awarded masters degrees complete theses signed by two faculty members. All pass a comprehensive examination given by three faculty members. As above, these requirements ensure that student learning is monitored by faculty on an ongoing basis campus wide.
  • See the catalog for more details.

B. Student persistence and completion of educational objectives

  • CU-Boulder's enrollment management team and its subcommittees use information on freshmen entering since 1980, and transfers and graduate-level students entering since 1988, to monitor persistence and graduation rates. We compare these rates over time and with other public research institutions with similar students. Much of this information is posted to a web site on retention and graduation rates.
  • A dip in undergraduate persistence rates in 1992 prompted significant campus efforts to improve programs for freshmen and transfers in their first year, increase financial aid, and improve programs for undergraduates in departments and colleges. Persistence rates have increased since 1996 but nevertheless remain the focus of serious campus attention.
  • In addition to campus-wide analyses, we also monitor persistence of various subpopulations in order to improve programs. Examples include engineering students (the college of engineering has its own enrollment management team), athletes (used in NCAA certification), arts and sciences students granted admission provisionally, transfers, ethnic minorities, women, students with lower or higher predicted grade point averages, and students in particular majors.

C, D, E. Placement rates, transfer rates, and after-graduation performance

  • Placement rates (including success both in further formal education and in employment) are monitored through surveys of graduating students and alumni. Our alumni are too dispersed geographically, and follow too diverse paths through further education, to allow efficient use of state employment records for this purpose. Placement rates are more important to professional programs than to liberal arts programs, which are preparing students for life-long learning and a myriad of careers.
    • Campus-wide information on placement rates comes from biennial surveys of seniors and of bachelors recipients four years out, both conducted regularly for almost ten years, and from a new survey of all alumni one year after graduation. The alumni surveys also tap after-graduation performance issues such as how alumni judge their preparation in various skill areas.
    • Program-specific information also comes from graduating students and alumni. Programs undergoing academic program review (every 7 years) are offered assistance in surveying recent alumni (graduates for the last 7 years) with questionnaires customized for the program; many take advantage of this service. Some programs, such as law, regularly survey alumni on their own, and the graduate school surveys students receiving degrees.
  • After-graduation performance is also assessed through feedback from employers via surveys and advisory boards.
  • CU-Boulder also queries non-returning students about their reasons for leaving. While financial and personal/family reasons are high on the list, we also collect some information on student dissatisfactions, to use in improvement. We know that over 90% of non-returners transfer to other institutions.

F. Student satisfaction

CU-Boulder employs a regular cycle of student satisfaction surveys at the campus, department, and course level. The results are used by the enrollment management team, in the examination of student learning outcomes, by faculty, by students themselves, and by units throughout the campus.

  • Our longest standing student survey is the faculty course questionnaire (FCQ), through which students rate their courses and instructors every term, in every course. We use over 10 years of FCQ data to report annually to departments on individual instructors' performance over time. FCQ data are used by students to select courses, by faculty for course improvement, and by administrators for salary, promotion, rehire, and tenure decisions. The FCQ is a true accountability system, ensuring that student satisfaction with courses and teaching is a critical factor in institutional management.
  • Biennial senior surveys, conducted regularly since 1990, tap student satisfaction with both academic and nonacademic services. We use a system of incentives and followups that yields a response rate of over 60%. We sample so as to allow each school and college, plus our 22 largest majors (covering 70% of all seniors), to be characterized independently.
    • Schools, colleges, and major programs receive a customized report in which their results are compared over time and to other units. Reports include transcribed student comments as well as quantitative displays. We review this information personally with most units. Sample actions taken as a result:
      • Anthropology: Put more emphasis on student clubs and career advising
      • Accounting: Review how student comments on curriculum have changed over time
      • Microbiology: Continue efforts to put advising information on the web
      • Communication: Results reinforce the effectiveness of changes made in the past
    • Service units (e.g., registration, counseling) receive similar information. The vice chancellor for student affairs has used this information to focus improvement efforts.
  • The graduate school initiated a survey of graduating students in 1997; results will be used by the school and by individual programs
  • An undergraduate survey, introduced in 1997, uses the ACT student opinion survey, thereby allowing comparison of CU-Boulder results with those at a group of public research universities nationwide. It too covers both academic and nonacademic areas. This survey will also be repeated every two years. The 1997 response rate was 56%.
    • Schools and colleges receive customized reports for discipline groups (e.g., social sciences) and by student class level. Our academic affairs division is using these results to identify problem areas.
    • Service areas (e.g., career services) receive not only aggregate results but transcribed comments and lists of students mentioning needed improvements in a service, who have had indicated willingness to be contacted about their responses. Some service areas did phone interviews or focus groups with these students to get more detailed information for improvement.
  • CU-Boulder also regularly surveys undergraduates of color about the campus climate for diversity (next scheduled for fall '98), and sophomores and seniors about academic advising (next scheduled for 1998-99 or 99-00).
  • Individual units such as residence halls, financial aid, registrar, counseling, and academic departments also collect student satisfaction data via surveys, focus groups, and advisory boards. These efforts allow a level of detail not attainable at the campus-wide level, and are critical for improvement efforts.

Entries G, H, and I are not on the CCHE-specified list of best practices, but are equally important to assessment and accountability.

G. College, school, and department committees

  • All colleges, schools, and departments have faculty committees on undergraduate education, graduate education, and/or curriculum. These committees meet regularly to monitor course offerings and degree requirements and their fit to goals for students. The committees then recommend adjustments in curriculum, requirements, and/or teaching to ensure that degree recipients meet knowledge and skill goals set by the unit. They also review the goals themselves periodically for currency.
  • Recent examples of committee activity
    • The graduate school initiated surveys of graduating students in 1997 on topics including instruction, advising, the advisor, financial support, teaching and research assistantship, opportunities to present research, ethics, and job status
    • Through custom items on student evaluations of courses, engineering monitors the amount of work in design, writing, computing, and oral presentation in every course taught in the college. This information is used in curriculum revision.
    • The arts and sciences core curriculum committee surveyed graduating seniors in fall 1997 about all core requirements, and examined extensive records data, to plan modifications of core requirements.
    • Based on examination of student portfolios, the political science committee recommended a department-wide discussion of the goals, content, examinations, and procedures used in their senior-level critical thinking classes.

H. Academic program review

  • All academic programs on campus are reviewed every seven years in a process involving a self study, campus review, and external review. The process, called simply "program review," is designed to identify program strengths and weaknesses, and results in recommendations for program development and modification.
  • In the review process, degree-granting programs are expected to examine the completion and placement rates, after-graduation performance, satisfaction, and learning of their students. They are also expected to examine their own outcomes assessment methods and use of results and recommend changes if appropriate.
  • Program review may result in significant changes in program direction, such as development or discontinuation of degree programs or areas of emphasis, changes in degree requirements, or major teaching initiatives.

I. Accreditation reviews

  • Every ten years the campus undergoes reaccreditation by the North Central Association of Schools and Colleges (NCA). This involves a self study of the entire campus and an extensive external review, both with emphasis on how the campus assesses whether it is meeting its own goals. In addition, many individual programs (e.g., engineering, athletics) are accredited by national bodies governing programs in their areas.

Summary of state-requested indicators

L:\IR\CCHE\QIS98\CC8.HTM -- July 14, 1998
Written by Lou McClelland and Ephraim Schechter

Last revision 10/22/08


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