What does it take for an institution of higher education to be excellent in assessing student learning and using results to drive systemic, campus-wide improvements? That question guided the development and implementation of the Excellence in Assessment (EIA) designation, which was launched last year by the Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA), in conjunction with the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) and the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA). Let me add another acronym to the mix: IUPUI (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis), which joined nine other colleges and universities in being recognized as part of the inaugural class of EIA designees.
Campuses seeking the EIA designation could apply as an Excellence Designee, in which institutions are committed to building (or rebuilding) a campus-wide culture and commitment to evidence-based results of student learning, or as a Sustained Excellence Designee, in which campuses have at least a 5-year demonstrated track record for integrated, campus-level assessment of student learning. In either case, EIA designees had to demonstrate how their assessment efforts were linked to NILOA’s Transparency Framework. The six components of the Framework are: (1) student learning outcomes statements; (2) assessment plans; (3) assessment resources; (4) current assessment activities; (5) evidence of student learning; and (6) use of student learning evidence.
In IUPUI’s case, we were excited to be one of four institutions recognized as a Sustained Excellence Designee. Thanks in large part to the leadership of Trudy Banta, my colleague for many years and predecessor at IUPUI, our campus has built and maintained a culture of assessment for both improvement and accountability purposes. As a large, urban-serving institution of 30,000 students operating in a highly decentralized manner, it has taken several ingredients for us to sustain assessment excellence. As we produced our EIA application and reflected on our approaches, the following have helped IUPUI in its assessment work:
- Leadership to develop and nurture a culture of evidence, assessment, and improvement on campus. At IUPUI, such leadership is both centrally sponsored and distributed throughout our many academic, student support, and administrative units. The Office of Planning and Institutional Improvement, working collaboratively with many others across campus, helps to lead and coordinate these efforts.
- Clear goals for student learning and success, including the curricular and, in many cases, co-curricular and community contexts. For IUPUI, these are manifested in our Principles of Undergraduate Learning, Principles of Graduate and Professional Learning, and Principles of Co-Curricular Learning, each of which articulate collectively what we want students to know and be able to do as graduates of our campus.
- Systems, processes, and an infrastructure to support assessment efforts, including the ability to influence, convene, and engage others. For us, this includes a campus-wide Program Review and Assessment Committee (PRAC), which requests annual unit-level assessment reports that get folded into an overall campus assessment report. It also relies on a robust data infrastructure, in our case capably led by our Office of Institutional Research and Decision Support.
- Ongoing involvement of stakeholders associated with assessment, including a focus on providing professional development for assessment. At IUPUI, this starts with faculty and extends to students, administrators, and colleagues across campus, including those from student affairs, international affairs, and community engagement, among others. We award modest grants for assessment-related projects through PRAC. And as part of the EIA application process, we convened community members to share feedback on our campus-wide assessment processes.
- Creating and using assessment approaches that make sense, given the campus context. For our complex, decentralized campus, a one-size-fits-all approach is impractical. Therefore, IUPUI has focused on building the leadership capacity for assessment across campus, promoting an evidence-based, decision-making culture, and fostering an environment where a willingness to experiment with various assessment methods has been encouraged.
While honored to have received the Sustained Excellence designation, we also recognize that IUPUI’s assessment efforts are, after all these years, still a work-in-progress. The EIA application process provided a vehicle to reflect and document our good work, but also an opportunity to identify ongoing areas for improvement, including what many institutions struggle to accomplish: the consistent use of assessment results to drive change across campus.
To learn more about the EIA program, or to apply for the 2017 class, please visit: http://www.learningoutcomesassessment.org/eiadesignation.html
Stephen P. Hundley is Professor of Organizational Leadership and Senior Advisor to the Chancellor for Planning and Institutional Improvement at IUPUI. He is the chair of the annual Assessment Institute in Indianapolis, now the nation’s oldest and largest event focused exclusively on outcomes assessment in higher education. In 2017, he will succeed Trudy Banta as editor of Assessment Update, an award-winning bi-monthly periodical from Jossey-Bass/Wiley. Hundley gratefully acknowledges Banta and Susan Kahn for their efforts in leading the team responsible for IUPUI’s EIA application.