The aim of this paper is to describe how academic institutions that focus improvement of student learning do much better than those that focus on compliance and assessment.
A reflective observation of institutional interaction with the North Central Association Higher Learning Commission, especially the 264 colleges and universities that have participated in the Commission's assessment workshops, provides insight into the characteristics that make the most positive difference.
The paper finds that academic institutions do better when: assessment is best understood as the means and student learning itself as the end; shared responsibility and collective capacity are intentionally developed; internal leaders, of different types, are identified and developed; collaborative processes that actively engage people replace concerns about buy‐in; institutions jump in and learn as they go along; program review becomes an area of shared faculty/administration interest; changed, parallel or separate core processes permit attention to enduring issues; and institutions begin wherever they chose to begin and from there develop the means to complete a full cycle of outcomes assessment. Another more recent emphasis is the need to inform the public and other stakeholders about what students are learning.
This paper draws on the insights of those who work at the Higher Learning Commission, who share the unusual perspective of having experience of dealing with hundreds of academic institutions.
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