The Advantages of an Annual Review of Departmental Data March 16

The Advantages of an Annual Review of Departmental Data

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Many academic departments now engage in annual cycles of assessment of student learning as well as departmental services. Best practices in higher education, reinforced by regional accrediting bodies, among others, dictate that only when departments assess student achievement and departmental initiatives, integrate those assessments meaningfully, and link them to resource allocation (as applicable) can they truly move down a path of continuous improvement. Yet can those assessments alone, important as they are, answer all the questions that departmental faculty and administrators pose about students, faculty, resources, and services? As a supplement to those assessment data, a set of pre-established, mission-centered metrics provides a barometer of the department’s health and vitality while informing timely decision making in a rapidly changing environment both inside and outside academia.

In “Getting SMART with Assessment: ACTION Steps to Institutional Effectiveness” (Assessment Update, 24: 1), Sandra Jordan and I briefly mention this supplementary data as one of three components of a fully integrated annual program review, which we define as an annual cycle of institutional effectiveness that combines the assessment of student learning with the assessment of departmental operations and often includes other departmental data. Whereas that article primarily explores strategies for promoting, clarifying, and supporting effective assessment strategies, in this article I discuss an annual departmental data review—its process, advantages, and management—as a separate component of institutional effectiveness. Used effectively, an annual departmental data review ultimately intersects with and supports other planning and assessment documents to advance departmental decisions.


Accreditation from a Positive Leadership Perspective March 16

Accreditation from a Positive Leadership Perspective

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May we be candid for a moment? When academic administrators are alone—no faculty members or representatives of the press in sight—one of the things we complain about most bitterly is accreditation. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about regional accreditation of all our programs or specialized accreditation of individual programs, we find it a nuisance at best and a major waste of time and effort at worst. It’s not that we don’t see advantages accruing from accreditation. We do. But we find that those returns seem to be ever diminishing and certainly not worth the cost involved in the process.

Even worse, accreditation sometimes actually gets in the way of our efforts to be innovative and responsive to the needs of a new generation of students. Legislatures, governing boards, and students all want us to offer accelerated paths to an academic degree, but accrediting agencies are still mired in outdated notions such as seat time and contact hours, even as they give lip service to the importance of outcomes-based assessment and evaluation. So, if you accept a few too many AP or IB credits—or, heaven forfend, try to launch an accelerated bachelor’s/master’s degree program—you’re likely to run into a brick wall of reasons why your creative solution (which everyone seems to like except the accreditors) “dilutes the integrity of the academic degree,” simply because a graduate won’t have been physically present in a classroom as long as he or she might have been 20 or 50 years ago.