This summer the important Legislative Finance Committee met at ENMU for several days. Their agenda did not focus on higher education but we were given a few minutes to review ENMU initiatives. One that I am most proud of is the ENMU Student Success Outcomes Program that has been enriched by the recent discipline assessment plan.
There are few days when some article does not cross my desk emphasizing the public, legislative, or federal discontent with higher education. This is now being called the higher education, “Public Disconnect.” Somewhere, sometime, we lost the public support for the relative independence and credibility of higher education, the Ivory Tower is disappearing.
One reason is the tremendous growth of higher education. At the time of World War II, only five percent of Americans took one or more postsecondary courses. Now sixty percent do. Thus, our “client” has changed radically in many ways: preparation, resources, demography, motivation, and educational goal. Institutions of two-year and public comprehensive mission are the ones most impacted by this change in participation. In addition, more and more students are mobile, starting at one institution, continuing at another and finishing at another.
During the 1995 legislative session, out of frustration over problems of student mobility relating to course articulation, the legislature passed House Bill 608. The bill assigns significant responsibility to the Commission on Higher Education to coordinate lower division degree requirements and now to do the same with associate and baccalaureate degree general education requirements. In one way, it is as if our degree requirement responsibilities have been mediated by CHE authority. Time will tell how this will play out.
Finally, we are confronted by what I call the hidden curriculum. Business leaders and employers are listing certain abilities they seek in graduates. Some of them say they are more important than the courses in a major. These are student skills in creative and analytical thinking, teamwork, communication, motivation, and problem solving. Research indicates that a well structured, general education based curriculum provides some of this preparation but the residential campus’s, "whole student life” activities are just as important. This perspective asserts that the successful baccalaureate degree is a combination of curricular and other campus experience. No one asserts that the traditional, academic discipline based requirements do not also have a significant role.
How does all of this relate to a vision of student outcomes assessment for ENMU? For me, it suggests that we need to spend some time ensuring ourselves that we have identified who our real “clients” are and what they perceive their needs are. Then, we have to review our current “academic” outcomes assessment model and expand it to include the broader range of external expectations. What is clear to me, is that in a public university where students are only paying about 17% of the cost of education, the legislators, representing the primarily paying public, are now asserting (perhaps rightfully) a much more intrusive role in monitoring whether public and student needs are met. This can be called an “accountability” perspective which places on US the responsibility to measure and disclose results of our efforts to justify to them the public support and regulatory latitude they grant to us. I believe that the best way to be accountable is to carry on an active program of outcomes assessment which is a formative process for academicians to measure effectiveness for purposes of improving student success. If we are effective in assessment, our accountability measures will reflect this.
A vision of outcomes assessment necessarily will include some tension between this public, summative accountability pressure versus our need to focus on measures that will enhance classroom, campus and pedagogy activity. It will be difficult to convince those who do not share in our perspective that to meet their measurement expectations we need time and a long range perspective. More of our effort will be focused on our “self-regarding” function. Our concept of academic success and faculty expectations will be challenged. Our traditional committee framework may need to adapt. But we are fortunate to work in a small institution which has long had an “Avis” perspective. We are much closer to meeting legislative expectations than some. And our mission and the spirit you portray about our common interests, all contribute to a successful posture for public scrutiny. Thank you for interest in this topic.
As in the University at large, the Assessment Resource Office utilizes surveys to assess the services provided to the campus community. In the last edition of the DATAWave for the Spring 1995 semester, members of the campus community were asked to complete a survey. Here are the results:
The DATAWave was mailed to 240 recipients during the semester, of those 91 (38%) responded. Fifty-two respondents were faculty (57.1%), 24 were administration (26.4%), 12 were staff members (13.2%), and 3 identified themselves as professional staff (3.3%).
When asked how often they read the DATAWave, three responded never (3.2%), 25, occasionally (26.9%), 8, half the time (8.6%), 35, frequently (37.6%), and 22 (23.7%) responded always. Nearly 70% of those who responded indicated that they read the DATAWave more than half the time. Administrators were more likely to indicate that they frequently or always read the DATAWave, whereas staff members are more likely to read the newsletter occasionally, and faculty were equally distributed between occasionally, half the time, frequently, and always.
Fifty-eight respondents (63%) indicated that they either agreed or strongly agreed that the information contained in the DATAWave was useful, 21.7% (20) were neutral, and 15.2% (14) disagreed or strongly disagreed that the information was useful. Administrators generally indicated agreement that the information in the DATAWave was useful, whereas response from faculty were mixed.
When asked if the information was presented clearly,69.5% (64) either agreed or strongly agreed, 12% were neutral (11), and 17 respondents (18.5%) either disagreed or strongly disagreed. As in the previous categories, faculty were more likely to strongly disagree or disagree with this statement than the other response groups.
The majority of respondents, 71.4%, indicated that they would prefer information presented equally in text and in pictures, graphs, and charts. Slightly more, 18.2% versus 10.4%, preferred pictures, graphs, and charts to words.
Respondents were asked to indicate on a scale of 1 through 5, with 1 being low and 5 being high, their interest in a number of potential topics in future editions of the DATAWave. Responses that were either coded 4 or 5 were combined, and used to determine readers’ interests. These are, in rank order: students development and growth at ENMU (71.4%), students values and attitudes at ENMU (64%), student learning as measured by the CAAP (Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency) 62%, general information on how to conduct assessment (39%), theory on student learning (36.9%), and theory on student development and growth (19.5%). Thirty-one people responded with comments regarding the DATAWave. These comments were, of course, both positive and negative, and excerpts of many of these are below.
Assessment information, of course, has little relevance or meaning unless the information is used. As you may have already noticed, the format of the DATAWave has changed; it has gone from two pages to four, and hopefully will make a more judicious use of charts and graphics along with text. A concerted effort will be made to not cram each issue with as much information as possible in order to fully explain analysis procedures. Also, the DATAWave will be published every two weeks as opposed to weekly. It is felt that all of these changes will make the information in the DATAWave more usable and assessable.
As always, your comments, suggestions, and contributions are appreciated and helpful.
As I began as the Coordinator of the Assessment Resource Office in the fall of 1994, assessment was considered by many a negative and threatening endeavor. Through the academic year, the role of the Assessment Resource Office and outcomes assessment at ENMU became clear. The faculty at Eastern were busy throughout the year with the development of Academic Outcomes Assessment Plans (AOAP’s). Providing them the opportunity to articulate what it is that their graduates will learn and how they’ll know that they have learned it. I know that when the development of AOAP’s began, there was much concern that the process would be completed. I think the entire faculty should be congratulated on the completion of this endeavor. The challenge that lay ahead is the implementation of these AOAP’s and the eventual improvement of teaching and learning at Eastern.
Student learning and development is not limited, of course, to the classroom. Students learn and develop in a number of ways throughout their college experience, and furthermore, there is a responsibility to external constituencies, taxpayers, legislators, and accrediting bodies to demonstrate student change and overall effectiveness. It is anticipated that the entire University community will eventually conduct outcomes assessment to demonstrate the overall effectiveness and to determine areas for improvement. This most likely will occur, part and parcel, with the strategic planning process being considered.
Also new in assessment is the establishment, with the assistance of Dr. Jack Moore, of the New Mexico Higher Education Assessment Directors Listserve. This listserve provides members of the New Mexico higher education community the opportunity to talk about assessment issues specific to us. To subscribe send e-mail to email@example.com, with the text ‘subscribe your name’. In the near future the Assessment Resource Office hopes to announce the establishment of a homepage on the World Wide Web (WWW). This should be an exciting opportunity for us to share with New Mexico, the nation, and the world our efforts at outcomes assessment.
Many non-faculty members have asked why they receive the DATAWave. It is my belief that the entire University community should be concerned with how students learn and grow, and the DATAWave is mailed to you in order to keep you informed. Should any recipient of the DATAWave wish to be dropped from the distribution list, please contact my office.
Finally, I hope that as you conduct research on student learning, teaching, and development here at ENMU that you would consider sharing your results with other members of the campus community through the DATAWave.
Please feel free to contact me at extension 4313 if I may be of any assistance to your outcomes assessment endeavors and/or with your comments, questions, or concerns. I can also be reached at e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Dr. Alec M. Testa, Coordinator, Assessment Resource Office