Troll through university websites and you’re likely to see mission statements with such lofty phrases as “instill a passion for lifelong learning” or “a commitment to student-centered education.” But what do these things really mean and, more importantly, how do you know you’re doing them?
Linda Suskie, vice president at the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, calls such nebulous mission statement goals “fuzzy aims,” and says this type of language is one of the two main obstacles to assessing institutional effectiveness.
In the recent 90-minute online seminar, Getting Started with Assessing Institutional Effectiveness, Suskie shared tips for aligning assessment strategies with institutional goals. To bring clarity to fuzzy aims, Suskie says you should visualize how a school would look if it achieved, for example, the goal of student-centered learning and compare that image with one of a school that did not. What are some of the differences? You also should ask yourself how you would know your college has achieved this aim.
The second obstacle to assessing institutional effectiveness, Suskie says, occurs when goals read more like “to-do lists that can be checked off without achieving the underlying aim.” To get to the heart of these types of goals, you need to do a root cause analysis by asking Why? (e.g. Why do want to strengthen our alumni network?) and How? (e.g. How will this help us achieve our mission or vision?).
In the second half of the seminar, Suskie discussed examples of performance indicators for assessing institutional goals, including program reviews, the Baldrige National Quality Program, surveys, focus groups, document reviews, online instructional portfolios, and quality improvement tools.
“Whatever assessment strategy you choose, it must give you useful information on your mission and goals,” says Suskie. “Given today’s financial challenges, we need to be careful stewards of our limited resources and we can’t waste a dime on things that aren’t working.”