The answer, according to this report from Inside Higher Ed, may simply be because we have to do it for accreditation. What the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment report reveals is that many colleges are measuring what undergraduate students learn. The problem is that they are not using the data to make improvements. For-profit schools and community colleges assess more than other types of schools. In fact, the more prestigious the school, the less likely it is to embrace assessment. The report states that “some faculty and staff at prestigious, highly selective campuses wonder why documenting something already understood to be superior is warranted. They have little to gain and perhaps a lot to lose.” Then the report goes on to urge schools to take assessment more seriously.
But, I wonder how seriously. For an organization that has “learning outcomes assessment” in its name, why only look at core learning such as writing, critical thinking and analytical reasoning. What about learning outcomes in the student’s major? At the program level? The report states that the most common approach is to use something like the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA), and to focus on the core areas. Of course, if you aren’t going to pay attention to whatever the assessments have to tell you, maybe it is just too much trouble to think about what ought to be measured.
As I have stated many times in this blog, the basic focus of Transparency by Design and its Web site http://www.collegechoicesforadults.org has been on program-level learning outcomes. Some have criticized us because the outcomes are not directly comparable—that is because every school claims unique program outcomes, and that those outcomes differentiate their school and programs. Regardless, why isn’t any other initiative looking at that level of learning? Why isn’t the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment encouraging that level of assessment? If we are all going to get real about assessing learning outcomes, let’s get down to the important stuff: what is it that we intend to have students learn in order to earn a degree? How do we know if our graduates are actually learning what they are supposed to be?
I would hope the courage is out there for others to begin to do what the Transparency by Design institutions have started. But, the outlook is not promising. Just recently I was warned by a person from a traditional school that we should all be careful what we measure, because if you measure it, you may not be pleased with what you find. You certainly would not want what you find to get out in the open!
The approach of the institutions in Transparency by Design is the exact opposite. Let’s measure what is important and, if we are not doing well today, let’s get about fixing it. It is unfortunate that much of higher education goes through the motions of assessment, avoids assessing the really important things, and then ignore what they find. I would suggest that it is precisely because of this culture that we are under such pressure to measure more, be transparent about what we find, and use assessment to drive improvement.
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Welcome to The Other 85 Percent. So what does "the other 85 percent" refer to? Research has shown that only about 15 percent of higher education students still fit the traditional definition of young adults age 18 to 22 who live on campus and go to school full time. more