ERIC Identifier: ED321834
Publication Date: 1990-07-00
Author: Heaney, Barbara
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for Junior Colleges Los Angeles CA.
The Assessment of Educational Outcomes. ERIC Digest.
Community colleges have employed various methods of measuring educational
outcomes for many years and for many purposes. Since state and federal
legislatures have entered the picture, however, outcomes assessment has
become a much higher institutional priority. Legislators feel they have
a responsibility to the public to demand accountability for dollars spent
and expect evidence that new monies will go toward the improvement of institutions.
According to a recent survey, two-thirds of the states have implemented
formal "assessment" initiatives, compared to a very few states only one
year earlier (Kreider and Walleri, 1988).
Though legislators' concerns are certainly valid, when outcomes assessment
is used only to ensure accountability, it can become just one more reporting
requirement. In response to endless demands for data from an increasing
number of constituencies, one institutional researcher commented, "Seldom
was the question asked: What do the data signify in regard to progress
or lack of it toward the mission or goals of the institution...? One barely
had time to pause and ask what the data meant: Better or worse, slower
or faster growth, less or more effective--than what? According to what
criteria?" (Fenske, 1978, p.80).
Effective and meaningful assessment evolves within a collaborative framework
in which both legitimate legislative needs and the integrity of institutional
autonomy are respected equally (Kreider and Walleri). Certainly, the assessment
process must look honestly at institutional and program deficiencies, but
it must also be a vehicle for highlighting institutional strengths and
For years, community college leaders have argued that traditional measures
of institutional quality were invalid when applied to their institutions.
Such criteria as student preparedness, number of PhD's on the faculty,
expenditure per student, and outside resources secured for research reflect
what an institution has rather than what it does (Astin, 1983). As an alternative,
the community college systems in Virginia and Kentucky as well as many
individual community colleges have moved toward value-added approaches
to assessment. "In value-added terms, the quality of an institution is
not based on the performance level of the students it admits, but on the
changes or improvements in performance that the institution is able to
effect in its students" (Astin, 1983, p.135).
Through the use of follow-up studies, employer surveys, and job placement
results, community colleges have attempted to determine whether the college
experience has added value to the students' lives (Simmons, 1988). Though
often adequate for institutional needs, these methods do not sufficiently
fulfill state requirements. In an attempt to balance the public's need
for accountability with the institution's need for self-evaluation and
improvement, community colleges have sought more accurate instruments and
approaches to the assessment of student learning and institutional effectiveness.
Some colleges have implemented comprehensive assessment programs, which
attempt to evaluate quality at all levels over time through systematic
reviews of academic programs and services, and longitudinal studies of
educational trends. Strong support for comprehensive assessment can also
be found among accreditation agencies. The Commission on Higher Education
of the Middle States Association contends that "carefully devised longitudinal
studies having faculty input will provide ultimately the most effective
means for judging institutional effectiveness and student outcomes" (Simmons,
p.16). Findings from longitudinal assessment efforts tend to be more accurate
than one-time studies. They also have the capacity to demonstrate long-term
changes and patterns of growth.
According to Kreider and Walleri, a multidimensional research approach
using both qualitative and quantitative methods to measure students' cognitive
and affective development and assess institutional effectiveness is essential
to a solid comprehensive program. Simmons suggests a research/accreditation
*a review of institutional mission,
*the evaluation of programs and curricula,
*administrator and faculty evaluations,
*facilities utilization studies,
*longitudinal studies of students and alumni,
*environmental impact studies,
*community impact studies, and,
*financial and management audits.
The National Alliance of Community and Technical Colleges (Grossman
and Duncan, 1988) has developed a value-added model for measuring a college's
performance in terms of external demands and its own stated mission. The
model identifies six areas of concern faced by all colleges: access and
equity; employment preparation and placement; college/university transfer;
economic development; college/community partnerships; and cultural and
cross-cultural development. Related to these six areas are 38 indicators
of measurable outcomes, which provide a foundation for the assessment of
In 1987, the Virginia State Council of Higher Education called for each
community college in the state to develop a comprehensive student assessment
and reporting process (Roesler, 1988). The assessment plans were designed
to (1) evaluate students' academic performance at entry, at mid-point in
their studies, at graduation or exit, and subsequently as transfers to
four-year colleges or as employees in the workplace; (2) assess the colleges'
academic programs and services by measuring students' achievement in remedial
programs and declared majors; and (3) continuously involve faculty in the
entire student assessment process from the design of tests to the use of
assessment results for the improvement of instruction and curricula.
In 1988, a national study was conducted by the American College Testing
Program (ACT) and two affiliate councils of the American Association of
Community and Junior Colleges (AACJC) to investigate and advance the use
of student outcomes measures for assessing institutional effectiveness
(Cowart, 1990). Three sets of student outcomes were identified for in-depth
study: academic progress and employment outcomes, student learning outcomes,
and student satisfaction outcomes. Member institutions of the AACJC were
surveyed to determine which of these outcomes were measured, in what manner,
and to what purpose. Responses were received from 675 institutions, revealing
*61% of the colleges used academic progress and employment measures
to assess institutional effectiveness, and 66 % of the colleges assigned
higher priority to these outcomes than to other types of student outcomes;
*only 35% of the colleges measured student learning outcomes and used
results to assess institutional effectiveness;
*skills assessment at entry was more common than exit-only assessment
or entry-exit comparisons;
*55% of the colleges used student satisfaction as a measure of institutional
*about 75% used measures of academic progress and employment outcomes
in the accreditation process;
*curriculum development was most cited as the activity most affected
by the use of outcomes measures.
The assessment of institutional effectiveness will become increasingly
important in the coming decade. Over 90% of the respondents to the ACT
survey expected outcomes measures to maintain their current priority or
increase in priority over the next three to five years. Used properly,
the results of outcomes assessment can help a college identify where present
efforts and priorities lie and where they should be placed. External constituencies
will be afforded proof that the college is committed to improvement and
growth, that its efforts have been worthwhile, and that both individuals
and the college are progressing toward their respective goals.
Astin, Alexander W. "Strengthening Transfer Programs." In: George Vaughan
(ed.); Issues for Community College Leaders in a New Era. San Francisco:
Cowart, Susan Cooper. "Project Cooperation: A Survey on Using Student
Outcomes Measures to Assess Institutional Effectiveness." Final Report:
1988 Survey of AACJC Institutions. Iowa City, Iowa: American College Testing
Fenske, R. H. "Synthesis and Implications." In: R. H. Fenske (ed.),
Using Goals in Research and Planning. New Directions for Institutional
Research, no. 19. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1978.
Grossman, Gary M.; Duncan, Mary Ellen. "Assessing the Institutional
Effectiveness of Community and Technical Colleges." Columbus, Ohio: The
National Center for Research in Vocational Education, 1988. 67pp. (ED 303
Kreider, Paul E.; Walleri, R. Dan. "Seizing the Agenda: Institutional
Effectiveness and Student Outcomes for Community Colleges." Community College
Review; v16 n2 p44-50 Fall 1988.
Roesler, Elmo D. "Assessment of Institutional Effectiveness: A Position
Paper Prepared for the Future of the Virginia Community College System."
Richmond: Virginia State Department of Community Colleges, 1988. 13pp.
(ED 297 806)
Simmons, Howard L. "Institutional Effectiveness in the Community College:
Assessing Institutional Effectiveness through the Accreditation Process."
Paper presented at the League for Innovation Conference, (Charlotte, N.C.,
July 17-20, 1988). 19pp. (ED 297 825)
Wilkinson, Donna; Green, Peggy. "Increasing Institutional Effectiveness
through Outcomes Assessment." Paper presented at the 69th Annual Convention
of the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges (Washington,
DC, March 29-April 1, 1989). 39pp. (ED 397 914)