Assessment in progress: a study of institutional responses to the learning assessment requirements of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
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This mixed methods study furthers understanding of how postsecondary institutions have responded to increased requirements to assess student learning adopted in 2005 by the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education (CIHE), an accrediting body within the regional accreditor the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). The quantitative phase of the study included a 37-question survey completed by 77 institutions who hold CIHE accreditation. The survey explored institutional characteristics, the practices institutions have in place to support assessment of student learning, and if these practices had changed since the adoption of assessment focused accreditation standards in 2005. Following a review of descriptive statistics, a Chi-Square analysis tested the association of five institutional characteristics (setting, non-profit status, institutional category, highest degree awarded, and enrollment size) against sets of survey questions related to assessment policy, structures, or support. Three distinct moderately strong relationships were found between institutional enrollment size and the existence of 1) a central assessment office, 2) an institutional policy for assessment, and 3) centralized assessment budgeting. The qualitative phase of the study included 10 in-depth interviews to explore institutional responses in detail and to understand the motivations behind the institutional responses. Analysis of the interview coding revealed four themes: perceived benefits (broader institutional benefit as motivating factor), legitimacy (approaches sought to reinforce legitimacy); institutional need (alignment with existing practices/structures); and stakeholder buy-in (ensuring continued relevance). The quantitative and qualitative phases of this study together raised four key findings. First, that institutions have responded to more formally assess student learning, particularly following a 2005 change in CIHE accreditation standards. Second, that institutional characteristics (such as public vs. private) are not the primary drivers of how institutions respond. Third, assessment support is strongly driven by unique institutional needs. Fourth, that assessment is becoming less about “assessment” and meeting external requirements, but is now frequently being positioned as a way to create broader value for an organization and inform strategy development. Considering these overall findings the study then presents potential implications for practice and discussion of future research possibilities.
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