Date of Award

12-2012

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Higher Education Administration

Major Professor

E. Grady Bogue

Committee Members

Norma T. Mertz, Wm. Bruce Wheeler, Gary J. Skolits

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to explore the present status of efforts to assess student-learning outcomes within the bachelor’s degree granting institutions of the campuses in one system of public higher education. Further, the purpose of this study was also to understand what challenges and criticisms academic leaders report about the call to provide learning outcome evidence. The study was guided by the following research questions:

  • What efforts, if any, are institutions presently taking to assess and report student-learning outcomes and why?
  • What types of learning outcomes, if any, are colleges and universities trying to measure?
  • What challenges and criticisms, if any, currently impede institutions’ abilities to gather learning outcome data?

Data were collected from 12 in-depth interviews across three campus sites of current chancellors, provosts, deans, directors of institutional research, and vice provosts for undergraduate programs who were involved with the efforts to assess and report student learning outcomes. Strategic plans, accreditation documents, and state agency reports were also collected. Two findings related to steps institutions are undertaking to assess learning outcomes were observed. They were: Working toward Compliance and Trying to Engage in Continuous Improvement. Two findings related to what institutions were assessing were exhibited across the sites. They were: General Education Testing (nationally standardized instrument) and Major-Field Testing (Nationally Standardized Instrument; Internally-Developed Instrument; Embedded Assessment). Finally, two themes related to the challenges institutional leaders have encountered were evidenced through the case study. They were: Resistance Based on Established Practices and Concern over Assessment Decision Utility.

These themes and findings suggest that while student learning outcomes are a significant priority within institutions of higher education, leaders who hold responsibility over assessing and reporting student learning outcomes are faced with significant barriers to establishing institution-wide systems of learning outcomes assessment on campuses. Implications for practice as well as considerations for future research are discussed.

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