Assessing Student Learning in Higher Education

Section 1
Section 2
 Background  Survey
What is Assessment?
Why Assessment?
Educational Improvement
Formative Feedback
Learning Paradigm
Prompting Learning

Section 3
Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs)

Section 4
Assessment Tools and Data

Section 5
Course Assessment

Section 6
Program Assessment


Section 7
Closing the Loop

Section 8
Implementing Assessment Training on Campus


Section 9
References & Resources



Using Materials from this Website

Why Assessment? Educational Improvement through Accreditation

One goal was to create an environment that continuously addressed quality - a philosophy reminiscent of TQM (total quality management) and CQI (continuous quality improvement). These business terms raised faculty hackles and stimulated vitriolic debate. Business quality, for instance in manufactured products, is usually maintained by careful control of both the components and the process used to create the product. In business, explicit specifications delimit the component parts used; strict protocol determine processes; and rigorous standardized testing provides the final data concerning the product quality. This rigid standardization is not the type of quality that can improve American higher education, it would destroy the variety and uniqueness highly valued in American individuals. Students are not components  acquired according to explicit specifications and run through a learning process controlled like manufacturing. The challenge to guarantee both quality and diversity has infused and shaped the type of quality control efforts in education.

Can education improve? Are we satisfied with only anecdotal reports? Should we guarantee that coursework is relevant and adequately current to meet a rapidly changing global environment? As faculty we will often complain about the lack of preparation characterized by incoming students and wonder who will do something about this. Naturally we can not assume that our efforts alone are as good as they can get; we can also not expect the public to simply take our word for the quality of education. As educational costs increase and demands for accountability increase, how will we guarantee quality, yet retain the individuality of American Higher Education?

U.S. higher education institutions are characterized by unique and individualized missions and values. The raw ingredients, from the students to the faculty and curriculum vary tremendously. Fostering heterogeneity and individuality, while maintaining quality, has been accomplished through a process of peer review called accreditation.

Specific criteria that represent quality education are enumerated as Accreditation Standards by regional accrediting bodies. Accreditation is a  peer review process that guarantees an institution actually does what it professes to the public it will do. The review validates that there is evidence to prove that colleges and universities meet basic standards through existing institutional structures and functions. (For more detailed information check out the links on the right.) Accreditation is a public stamp of approval which influences which students select to attend, what funding sources will invest in which institutions, and the recognition or transferability of an institution’s courses, degrees, or certificates.

Accreditation creates a cycle of review and improvement based upon campus-wide dialogue and a culture of evidence produced through assessment processes.

Develop, modify, or review a curriculum, course, program, or service.


Develop Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs)


Design & Measure Student Learning as a result of the Curriculum, Course, or Program


Collect, discuss, and analyze data.


Determine refinements based on outcomes data..

  Closing the Assessment Loop

Proceed to Assessment for Improvement or browse the accreditation standards using the links at the right.

Resources and Links

Total Quality Management in Education  Fitzgerald


Quality on campus. Seymour  


Culture of evidence.
Pacheco (1999).


“Accreditation is the primary means by which the quality of higher education institutions and programs is assured in the United States” (Council for Higher Education Accreditation CHEA).

Statement of Mutual Responsibility on Student Learning Outcomes: Accreditation, Institutions, and Programs

Accrediting organizations in the US.: How do they operate to assure quality.

What are the reasons for
greater attention to student
learning outcomes in accreditation?

Specifics on WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges)


ACCJC-WASC Accreditation Standards

Links and Names of other Accreditation Associations

Report from the Project on Accreditation and Assessment. John Nichols (2003)


Janet Fulks ( & Kate Pluta (
Assessing Student Learning in Community Colleges (2004), Bakersfield College