The Office of Assessment held its Assessment Workshop for Class of 2016 Physician Assistant students at the Bartilucci Center on April 27th, 2015. A Pre-Assessment Workshop Survey showed that 50% of students were aware of the assessment process and that 66% of students are willing to participate in assessment. A total 17% of students were aware the College had an Office of Assessment. Dr. Marc Gillespie introduced the audience to assessment & its structure within the College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences, examples of assessment within their program, and the importance of stakeholder involvement. Students were encouraged to take part in the assessment process, not only during their time here at St. John’s University, but also, as alumni following graduation. It was stressed that student feedback aids in identifying meaningful issues that require attention, which can influence their current instruction, as well as, mold the program for future cohorts.
Following the Assessment Workshop, a Post-Assessment Workshop Survey was administered and received a 32% response rate, an increase from the 9% response rate yielded in the Pre-Assessment Workshop Survey. Compared to the previous responses, 77% percent are now aware of the assessment process in the college following the Assessment Workshop whereas 68% are now willing to participate in assessment. 82% of students are now aware of the College’s Office of Assessment.
Student feedback suggested holding the workshop earlier in the year. The Office of Assessment is now scheduled to present its Assessment Workshop for the incoming cohort at the Fall 2015 PA didactic orientation. Student feedback also demonstrated their interest in the assessment process, as they are more interested in staying informed as to purposes behind surveys, as well as, any changes that may have occurred as a result of their survey responses and feedback. Student feedback remains an invaluable resource and we will continue to count on their participation to help shape the success of the College’s programs.
The Office of Assessment routinely assists in faculty-led research projects, specifically in terms of data collection and analysis. A good example is our recently published article, “A Survey of Pharmacists in Academia of the Current Practice of Estimation of Kidney Function for Antimicrobial Dosing in Adults”. By assisting with faculty-driven projects, the assessment team continues its own scholarship, while providing essential assistance to stakeholders as they continue important research in their fields. Each publication and research project helps us to fine-tune our own skills, and push the assessment process forward. Our office is becoming more and more necessary in these special projects.
It is important to think of research and assessment as entities that work hand-in-hand. So much of what we do on a daily basis truly falls into the research category. We are always looking at new ways to measure our goals and outcomes – new ways to drive student success. Assessment is an encompassing area that does not stop with simple data collection. Continuous quality improvement is what our assessment goals are geared toward, and research ultimately lends itself to the same goal in many ways. Assessment folks tend to be researchers; it is important to think of us as such.
There’s no doubt that the burden of student loan debt is holding back the financial progress of a whole generation of young people. As inspiring as it is to hear the federal government is attempting to “empower consumers with fresh information [and] pressure colleges to keep costs down,” Obama’s College Rating Plan has raised some controversy. Per The Chronicle of Higher Education’s articles titled Obama Plan to Tie Student Aid to College Ratings Draws Mixed Reviews and 4 Key Questions Experts Are Asking About Obama’s College-Ratings Plan, the plan requires more consideration to avoid unintended consequences.
The Obama administration is proposing to create a ratings system for colleges based on “measures of access, affordability, and student outcomes, and to allocate [federal] aid based on those ratings” in time for the 2015 academic year. Per Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education, “If you want to condition the receipt of student aid on this information, you have an obligation to have perfect data.” This is of absolute significance as some data proposed to be used by the administration is inaccurate, missing, or incomplete.
Unfortunately, rating systems used by the Education Department’s College Scorecard are currently labeling colleges with inaccurate graduation rates as these rates “include only first-time, full-time students.” In addition, considering the earning of college graduates as a measure to rate colleges is of concern because this data may unfairly penalize small regional institutions whose graduates serve their communities with low paying salaries. Community colleges are particularly concerned because they have higher transfer rates than graduation rates since these schools inherently function as “vehicles for students to transfer to four-year colleges.” These are all viable concerns and one can only hope a compromise between providing consumer-friendly information and holding institutions accountable can be agreed upon.
Transparency in Assessment holds significant importance for all its stakeholders (see our Higher Education Assessment’s post, titled Culture of Assessment: Are We There Yet?). Certain levels of transparency must exist for all prospective students to make informed decisions on selecting an affordable institution. An investment in the next generation of higher education is long overdue. Per President Obama, it is “time to stop subsidizing schools that are not producing good results, and reward schools that deliver for American students and our future.”
Both advocates and opponents of the College Ratings plan realize the importance of cautiously selecting measures to base its ratings on. Even if the plan to tie student aid to college ratings does not come into fruition, it is still “a powerful incentive for institutions to pay attention to outcomes.” In order to improve the health of the US economy and improve the well-being of the current generation dealing with student loan debt, something must be done to ensure the infrastructure of higher education improves.
Mark Salisbury’s “Future-Focused Assessment” article appears in the June 2014 Inside Higher Ed compilation of articles and essays titled “The Evolving Curriculum: Measuring Effectiveness of Change.” Salisbury introduces a different focus in assessment which assesses learning outcomes with a focus on the future. Specifically, how higher education institutions have prepared students to be life-long learners, instead of measuring outcomes based on what students have already learned.
In order to assess our students’ development as lifelong learners, Salisbury reasons we cannot continue to only “track learning [gains] as a finite set of outcomes.” He describes that assessment currently provides evidence of student learning by measuring “snapshots of learning outcomes,” which tracks what has been previously learned. Instead, he hopes to further develop it and introduce a different design of assessment, which analyzes the quality of the learning process beyond graduation,not just assessing learning outcomes during those four years of college. He proposes “emphasizing the connection between what has already occurred and what is yet to come.” Developing this new approach in assessment would help “determine the degree to which we are preparing students” for future challenges.
Salisbury hopes there will be more focus on the broader picture of the college experience, which is, that the “college experience should approach learning as a process- one that is cumulative, iterative, multidimensional, and most importantly, self-sustaining long beyond graduation.” He believes “we have to expand our approach to include process as well as product” in order to determine how institutions are preparing its students for life-long learning.
He understands this type of re-design requires more time, effort, and a more complex understanding of learning outcomes, however, he believes its implementation would help “demonstrate that the educational process is the glue that fuses those disparate parts into a great and qualitatively distinct whole.”
Just as the efforts of assessment provide administrators with data so they have the opportunity to make improvements, evolving practices and techniques in assessment is also advantageous. Further research should be contributed to future-focused assessment efforts. Otherwise, the college experience of life-long learning as a “whole [will] be nothing more than the sum of [its] parts” unless assessment can provide such valuable data.
Jeffrey Selingo has published an interesting article on The Chronicle of Higher Education’s site, regarding the bachelor’s degree and his opinion of a proposed makeover. The general point of the article is that institutions of higher education should offer bachelor’s degrees that meet both students’ aspirations and needs at the same time. As the economy shifts and changes (or remains stagnant), the article proposes that the bachelor’s degree be reworked somehow. One interesting example given, is from Stanford University.
Dubbed the “open loop” university, this plan would admit students at 18 but give them six years of access to residential learning opportunities, to use anytime in their life. Such a path through college could shift our deep-rooted cultural belief that college is something young people do, and would make alternative pathways, such as gap years and low-residency colleges, more acceptable to those students who wouldn’t benefit from the typical campus experience.
We always need to look for ways to be ahead of the curve in higher education. Whether this relates to distance learning, study abroad, assessment technology and techniques, or general change to degrees and programs, it is essential for all higher education professionals to look for the writing on the wall, and make change when necessary. I agree that an examination of the bachelor’s degree is required. Figuring our where and what to reorganize, is where the true work begins.