If You Cannot Measure It, You Cannot Manage It

Renee Ballenger

Last April, a team from The Higher Learning Commission (HLC, UNK’s accrediting body) visited the UNK campus to evaluate progress in developing a useful and sustainable assessment process to evaluate student learning. This visit was a follow-up to the 2004 accreditation visit in which assessment was identified as an area needing further attention, and was a reflection of a nationwide trend on student outcomes assessment and accountability in higher education.

The visiting team identified areas in which UNK has made significant progress since 2004, including developing the infrastructure to support assessment; UNK faculty commitment to assessment; campuswide recognition of exemplary assessment practices; development of a sustainable assessment process in all academic areas including UNK undergraduate and graduate programs; eCampus; the cultural diversity program; and the writing intensive program.

Only one area of assessment requires further attention. The team expressed particular concern that the learning outcomes of the current UNK General Studies program cannot be easily assessed. The HLC reviewer wrote:

As it currently stands, there does not appear to be a clear, shared definition nor understanding of the learning outcomes for the General Studies program. Each department that is teaching courses in General Studies is assessing its interpretation of the outcomes in its own way, using its own instruments. As such, it is impossible to determine whether UNK students are achieving at an acceptable level when the level shifts from course to course, program to program.

The team recommended a follow-up report for the assessment of the General Studies Program for 2011. The report must: 1) provide evidence that UNK is measuring standardized learning outcomes and making curricular adjustments that take those outcomes into account; 2) demonstrate that we have made the required changes in the GS program to provide campuswide agreement on learning outcomes and the assessment of those outcomes; 3) demonstrate that the institution has moved from a culture of assessment to a culture of learning.

In regards to the ongoing renewal process, Senior Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs and Student Life, Dr. Finnie Murray, emphasizes to his colleagues, “Our success is not being questioned, but rather the demonstration of it.” Murray adds, “UNK has made an impressive transition to a ‘culture of assessment’ – that is, the appreciation of the need to engage in continuous assessment of programs. Now, the next challenge for us is to make a further step in our campuswide understanding of the importance of assessment.”

Murray continues, “We have already embraced assessment as a vital part of our institutional culture, but now we need to embrace the role that assessment should play in continuously improving learning outcomes. Learning Outcomes is the end; Assessment is the measurement, the means.”

To learn more about this process of refining UNK’s Assessment methods within General Studies, as well as assessing student learning outcomes across campus, go to the Assessment website at: http://www.unk.edu/academicaffairs/assessment