December 21, 2010, 12:38 pm
As promised, this blog will expire with the calendar year (cue violins).
In this last post, I’ve tried to distill some fundamental arguments about assessment and accountability in higher education. I’ve borrowed liberally from comments that readers have left here and elsewhere on The Chronicle’s site. Many thanks to all of you for reading and arguing.
Of course there are more than two sides to these debates. In that respect, what follows is pathetically reductive. But I’ve tried not to put my thumb on the scale on behalf of either of these characters. I’ve tried to convey the strongest cases on each side of an admittedly-crudely-drawn line. (If I’ve failed to do that, you should of course call me out in the comments.)
December 9, 2010, 7:02 pm
The University of Phoenix has released its third “Academic Annual Report,” a document that continues to be notable not so much for the depth of information it provides on its students’ academic progress but for its existence at all. Few colleges, for-profit or otherwise, publish such reports.
Matthew Denhart, administrative director at the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, an organization that advocates for greater transparency and accountability about student learning in higher education, said the report was “kind of refreshing,” even as he noted the inherent limitations of a report in which the university itself chooses what information it will publish.
He said he especially liked the data Phoenix collected on how students’ salaries (most of them work while attending) rose at a rate higher than the national average while they were enrolled. Data like that are “so…
December 6, 2010, 12:13 pm
It is a deeply flawed measure of college performance, but it is also one of the best we have.
Today The Chronicle published an analysis of recent changes in the six-year graduation rates at nearly 1,400 colleges. At most institutions, the rate ticked up at least modestly between 2003 and 2008. But at 35 percent of the colleges in the data set, the rate declined, in some cases steeply.
In other words, despite all the attention thrown at graduation rates during the last 15 years, many colleges’ numbers remain stagnant or worse.
But what exactly is a six-year graduation rate? Here are a few basics. (If you already live and breathe this stuff, this post isn’t for you. Go watch this instead.)
Q. What do these numbers represent?
A. In 1990, Congress passed the Student Right-to-Know Act, which requires colleges to disclose information on graduation rates and serious crimes.
December 2, 2010, 1:58 pm
During a panel on Thursday morning at the annual meeting of the Council of Graduate Schools, two deans asked the same questions that were raised by Robin Wilson in The Chronicle this week: Do graduate schools keep adequate track of what happens to their alumni? If not, why not?
“At most graduate schools, there appears to be very little central data collection about career outcomes,” said Patricia G. Calarco, dean of the graduate division at the University of California at San Francisco. Individual departments and programs often maintain their own databases, she noted, but the quality of those databases is hit or miss.
Lynne M. Pepall, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University, asked the audience members (who were wielding classroom-style “clickers”) how many of their institutions kept systematic records of alumni outcomes. Of the 34…
December 1, 2010, 3:34 pm
Graduate-level programs were once relatively immune from pressure to define and measure “learning outcomes” for their students. But for good or ill, the student-learning-assessment movement has begun to migrate from the undergraduate world into master’s and doctoral programs. (At some institutions, there is even talk of defining a set of “foundational outcomes” for all graduate students—that is, a set of learning goals that would be analogous to general-education goals for undergraduates.)
On Wednesday morning, as the annual meeting of the Council of Graduate Schools got under way in Washington, three graduate deans led a workshop on assessing graduate students’ learning and using such assessments to improve programs.
Formal assessment for improvement, they said, is more useful and less painful than many faculty members believe. (And in any case, accreditors are…
November 23, 2010, 2:44 pm
You don’t want that list to just sit there on a Web site as a testimony to your college’s good intentions. (Right?) You want to take reasonable steps to measure whether your students are actually meeting the goals you’ve defined.
How best to do that is, of course, a highly contested question.
Some scholars urge colleges to use nationally normed tests, like the Collegiate Learning Assessment, that attempt to capture students’ critical-thinking and analytic-writing skills. Others say it is better to use student portfolios that allow students to demonstrate their skills in the context of their course work. (For a taste of that debate, see this post and the comments it engendered.)
Charles Blaich, director of Wabash College’s Center of …
November 22, 2010, 1:36 pm
Last week we published a series of comments (one, two, three) on the Presidents’ Alliance for Excellence in Student Learning and Accountability. Today we’re pleased to present a reply from David C. Paris, executive director of the presidential alliance’s parent organization, the New Leadership Alliance for Student Learning and Accountability:
I was very pleased to see the responses to the announcement of the Presidents’ Alliance as generally welcoming (“commendable,” “laudatory initiative,” “applaud”) the shared commitment of these 71 founding institutions to do more—and do it publicly and cooperatively—with regard to gathering, reporting, and using evidence of student learning.
The set of comments is a fairly representative sample of positions on the issues of evidence, assessment, and accountability. We all agree that higher education needs to do more to…
November 17, 2010, 11:24 am
The final entry in our series of comments on the Presidents’ Alliance for Excellence in Student Learning and Accountability.
Michael Poliakoff, policy director at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni:
We applaud the desire of university presidents to improve student learning and accountability on their campuses, although the idea is hardly new. A number of institutions in the alliance, in fact, distinguished themselves by their work in assessment and accountability for student learning before the organization was formed.
Does progress in these areas require another coalition? The alliance offers a four-point plan for presidents to gather, use, report and publicize student learning outcomes. What’s been stopping all institutions from doing this long before now?
The availability of appropriate tools has not been an obstacle. Hundreds of institutions around the nation…
November 16, 2010, 1:28 pm
Here’s round two of our series of comments on the Presidents’ Alliance for Excellence in Student Learning and Accountability. Today, two social scientists weigh in.
Josipa Roksa, assistant professor of sociology at the U. of Virginia and co-author of Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (forthcoming in January from the U. of Chicago Press):
The Presidents’ Alliance for Excellence signifies the growing attention of higher-education leadership to student learning, which is a welcomed and much needed development. Alliance members should be applauded for their vision and commitment to place learning on institutional and national agendas.
While this laudatory initiative has great potential, some might worry about its conspicuous absences. For example, our leading universities, the ones that excel at selecting and attracting the “best and brightest,”…
November 15, 2010, 12:02 pm
Ten days ago, we wrote about the Presidents’ Alliance for Excellence in Student Learning and Accountability, a new effort in which 71 college and university presidents have promised to take specific steps to improve teaching and learning on their campuses within two years.
We’ve invited several people to take a look at those 71 pledges and to share their thoughts, and we’ll present their comments this week. In this first round, we’ve got William Chace and Cliff Adelman.
William M. Chace, president emeritus of Emory University and author of 100 Semesters (Princeton University Press, 2006):
This effort, which in part is meant to “gather evidence about how well students in various programs are achieving learning goals across the curriculum,” is wholly commendable. It is also wholly belated in its appearance.
For decades, the woeful reluctance of America’s…