Assessing Student Learning in Higher Education

Author's Home Page 

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



Defining Programs

The primary requirement for writing SLOs and designing program assessment is a clearly defined program with a written mission statement. Mission statements are not hard to create and the conversations are exceedingly useful.

During the budget crises, our campus conducted an institutional audit; we identified 72 different instructional, support, and administrative programs, a nearly unmanageable number. Each program was required to create a mission statement and describe how the program contributed to IMPROVED learning on campus. Programs wanted to explain how they contributed to learning, but the assignment was to describe how they contributed to IMPROVED learning. This audit included all instructional programs, as well as administrative and support services programs, such as the cafeteria, bookstore, Chicano student center, and the president's office. This began an exciting shift in our perspective as defined by the learning institution paradigm. (Don't envision sudden transformation, but do imagine great dialogue.)

This audit process generated an important question for Bakersfield College, "What is an assessable program?" We had always defined programs by departments and disciplines, or geographic locations, e.g. the biology department, physical science, humanities, the book store, and counseling. Viewing it from the student's perspective we began to see that a program might be a pathway. For instance, the biology program really contained three pathways which were programs of study ending in or contributing to terminal degrees.


the pathway or program for biology majors
- requiring some pre- and co- requisites (math, chemistry, physics)
- taking numerous interrelated courses with a discipline focus
- typically transferring to a four year institution


the pre-allied health program
- requiring pre-requisites
- taking a lock-step series of courses to prepare for a profession
- concluding with a vocational program and eventual board exam


the general education program
- requiring only collegiate level reading
- serving as the only science portion to many student's education
- concluding in a liberal studies degree (potential teachers) or as transfer degree in another discipline field or vocation

Before the campus begins to create new program outcomes, review the campus structure and culture to determine whether the existing structure works well and is learning-centered, or whether robust conversation needs to occur concerning structures and program definitions. Share information between programs; some existing programs have well-defined outcomes and assessment practices in place, particularly vocational or grant-funded programs. (Section 8 discusses the use of an assessment audit to save time and energy.)

Finally, a discussion concerning programs must consider cross-disciplinary programs or degrees. This section will go into some detail concerning the General Education program, but consider other cross-disciplinary programs such as Chicano Studies. For pathways or programs such as a pre-allied health biology program, this entails discussions with the Math department, the Chemistry department, and the nursing or x-ray department. This represents a unique, but stimulating challenge, that could greatly benefit students (and is somewhat reminiscent of learning communities).

*Warning: These discussions take time and examine the fabric of  institutional organization and governance structures. However, the discussions provide a rationale for why things exist as they do, and an opportunity to review them concerning learning centered strategies. Allow time and be inclusive when examining these issues.

Proceed to Defining Program SLOs

Resources and Links

Creating a Mission Statement

Bakersfield College Program Audit Questionnaires
- Instructional Programs
- Student Support Services
- Administrative Support Services

Review Learning Paradigm information from Section 2












Part of this review may entail a campus assessment audit to see what you are already doing.

BC Assessment Audit for Academic Units

BC Assessment Audit for Administrative and Support Units


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