Assessing Student Learning in Higher Education

   Section 1

Section 2
 Background and Rationale for Assessment

Section 3
 Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs)

Section 4
Assessment Tools and Data

Section 5
Course Assessment

Section 6
Program Assessment
Setting the Stage
Defining Programs
Program SLOs
General Education Programs
Program Assessment Tools
Homegrown Program Assessment Tools
Program/Course Matrix
Program Review and Program Assessment
Sample Program Assessment Reports


Section 7
Closing the Loop

Section 8
Implementing Assessment Training on Campus


Section 9
References & Resources



Using Materials from this Website


Setting the Stage - Discussion about the Shelter SLO

Program Outcome- Following the services and therapy provided by the women's shelter, battered women will make a choice to leave their violent relationships as the major strategy to protect themselves and their children.


This outcome does focus on what the woman can do following the program.


This outcome defines an action - "make a choice to leave"


The outcome is a measurable expectation. You could find out how many people from the shelter have left their violent situations after a given time period.


There has been dialogue, the shelter board and participants know this is an important answer to promote real health and safety.

However, the next points provide a new perspective from the role of program outcomes.

Is this outcome valid and appropriate for the shelter?


Is this outcome understandable to the intended audience?


There is no doubt that this outcome is valuable and would contribute to solving the problem and meeting their vision of reducing domestic violence in our society. The outcome suggests an easily measured and valued assessment method - Determine how many clients left their violent relationships last year?

However, this is where a problem occurs - most victims of domestic violence chose NOT to leave their relationships. In fact, many people in the shelter come only to receive temporary refuge with no desire to leave a relationship; their main desire is that the violent person will change their behavior. Therapists struggle with this aspect of domestic violence; few have succeeded in producing substantive behavioral changes in spite of therapy. Basing income (grant funding) upon an outcome that is ideal, but difficult or impossible to achieve is problematic; this may be an excellent goal or vision, but it is an unpredictable and perhaps improbable outcome.

It is more realistic to base program outcomes upon things that the program actually does, and outcomes that the participants care about. Below is a sample year-end report from Women's Shelter Inc. Notice that this shelter has accomplished some terrific results, worthy of their effort and continued financial support.

Women's Shelter Inc. statistics for 2001. (This is real data from an actual shelter).

bullet Sheltered 412 women and 463 children.
bullet Provided community advocacy and criminal justice intervention to 2,525 women. 
bullet Helped 1,382 battered women through crisis line support. 
bullet Received 12,299 calls from friends, family, and others concerned about a battered woman they know. 
bullet Provided legal advocacy to 2,259 battered women. 
bullet Conducted 139 presentations and 2,333 hours of professional training for a total of 4,757 participants. 
bullet Thirty-seven battered women received assistance specific to immigration. 
bullet Fifty-four individuals lived in the Respite's transition housing. 
bullet Thirty-five children attended the Respite Children's School.

Two hundred fifty-three children participated in Children's Program activities.

These statistics are very impressive and indicate excellent work. For our scenario, which uses an outcomes approach, the strategy is to look at the product in order to improve. Just sheltering more women or giving more presentations may not get us to the program goal-to reduce societal violence against women and children. Using these statistics the shelter needs to reconsider what they are able to do, what they do well, and what outcomes the funding does support. It is laudable to have values of improving society, but these are not the direct outcomes of this program. (In the same way, a local food bank program does not reduce world hunger.)

When writing program outcomes:

bulletstate the program purpose or mission
bulletconsider other areas or programs that feed into or interact with your program
bulletanalyze community expectations for the program
bulletsurvey program descriptors and accomplishments
bulletreview the components of the program and
bulletdetermine participant expectations

Good program assessment begins with a clearly stated Mission or Goal that defines the program's reason for existence. Based upon this purpose, assessable outcomes represent a mechanism to determine how well the program is achieving its goal and provides feedback on how to improve.

Using the information reported for the shelter above, can you construct an assessable and realistic outcome for this program that could be used as a basis for a grant-funded outcomes report? The statistics above prove that help, refuge, advocacy, and training are being provided (in the same way that course content is delivered). What observable outcomes will be the product of the participants encounter with the shelter? Remember to consider the three domains for Cognitive, Psychomotor, and Affective outcomes. (Use the SLO checklist.) Can you suggest any assessment tools to gather evidence concerning the outcome?

In assessing the outcomes, surveys concerning self-assessment from the women would be helpful. Baseline information concerning their status before using the services would help, as would evidence of change over time in attitudes and skills. These same issues relate to academic programs, so let's move our thinking to our own programs.

Proceed to Defining Programs

Resources and Links



Developing a Departmental Assessment Plan Moskal & Bath, 2000











































SLO checklist

Word Document for Printing SLO Checklist



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