January 4th, 2010

Improving Your Assessment Processes: Q&A with Linda Suskie

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It’s a new year, but the same old challenges exist. Given today’s financial constraints, colleges and universities are working harder than ever to be careful stewards of limited resources and demonstrate their effectiveness to stakeholders, constituents, and the public.

So how effective is your institution? Do you carefully monitor your programs, services, and resources? Or are you struggling to discern success from failure?

In an email interview, Linda Suskie, an internationally-known speaker with more than 30 years of experience in higher education assessment, answered a few questions on how you can improve assessment processes.

Q: How do you prioritize what should be measured?
Suskie: Prioritize in whatever way most helps you keep assessment momentum going. Some people like to start by assessing likely successes, to help build morale. Some like to start by assessing things they know they need to work on, to get information to help inform work in those areas. And some like to start by assessing the easy-to-assess things, so everyone can see assessment results fairly quickly.

Q: Are there certain essential institutional effectiveness measures that should be part of each institution’s assessment program?
Suskie: Every college and university has a mission of education, so assessments of student learning should definitely be part of any set of institutional effectiveness measures. And every college and university needs to make sure that the necessary infrastructure and resources are in place to support student learning, so assessments monitoring resources and their effective deployment are another must.

Q: What suggestions do you have for bringing together disparate assessment data?
Suskie: Colleges and universities do so many very different things that assessment data will likely be a collection of apples and oranges … and green beans and cupcakes and turkey! So don’t feel you have to put all assessment data into a common format or common system. Focus instead on linking assessment data to appropriate institutional goals.

Q: What elements help make institutional effectiveness assessment successful?
Suskie: One factor really stands out: If institutional leaders really value assessment results and use them to inform important decisions on important goals, your institutional effectiveness efforts will be a resounding success.