(October 22, 2001)
The University of Nebraska at Kearney is Nebraska's only public university that is distinguished by its emphasis on undergraduate education. UNK contributes to the development of students by providing a diverse, dynamic learning environment characterized by excellence in teaching and personal attention. The University of Nebraska at Kearney's commitment to excellence, coupled with its commitment to continuous improvement, demands a pro-active assessment plan if it is to achieve its academic and administrative goals.
"Each campus will be in the top thirty among universities with comparable missions." (University of Nebraska Strategic Framework, February 26, 2000)
The University of Nebraska Strategic Framework, 2000-2004, and the University of Nebraska at Kearney Strategic Plan, 1995-2005, have established overarching guidance for all other campus strategic planning activities. For purposes of assessment planning at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, those documents outline central principles, values, and goals.
If UNK is to carry forward the commitments established in these planning documents, systematic, on-going assessment must be integrated into all strategic planning efforts - and must be connected to the budget. As we do so, it seems prudent to recognize the following realities pertaining to assessment:
- Increasingly, citizens view assessment as a way to hold their public universities accountable.
- Increasingly, the public is aware of external perspectives and "rating-systems" - for example, U.S. News & World Report.
- Increasing, assessment has focused on learning outcomes and public universities are asked to benchmark student learning and student satisfaction - by the public, governing bodies, accrediting agencies, and funding agencies.
Given UNK's mission, vision, and established strategic commitments, our long-term aims for assessment can be summarized as follows:
- Assessment will be viewed and used as a leadership tool - to measure outcomes against objectives.
- We will utilize external benchmarking standards to compare UNK to established peers and aspirational universities.
- We will develop assessment tools to systematically obtain input from students, graduates, and employers.
- We will incorporate the assessment of student learning into Academic Program Reviews.
- We will incorporate assessment strategies into all campus planning efforts.
- We will link assessment to budgeting.
UNK's assessment posture has been improved considerably in the past decade. An Assessment Coordinator has been hired, the Academic Program Review process has been modified, and most recently, an Ad Hoc Faculty Senate Assessment Committee has been established. These and other developments, provide us an advantageous posture from which to pursue our goals. However, substantial challenges remain, including:
- The assessment of student learning has not been uniform across academic programs.
- We have not systematically assessed the impact of information technology investments or other infrastructure improvements on student learning.
- We have not systematically assessed the impact of student research, internship, and service-learning experiences on student learning.
- We have not systematically assessed student and employer satisfaction with the UNK experience and graduates.
- We have not systematically assessed the impact of the residential experience on student learning.
As we address these challenges, we recognize that assessment is integral to the institution's primary mission and commitment to high quality education. In short, the best and highest use of assessment strategies in our contest is to service the education needs of UNK's students. Our fundamental purpose is to strengthen teaching and learning through assessment - and its like to planning and budgeting.
This assessment plan outlines a program designed to define the apparent gap between our vision, strategic objectives, and our present circumstances. Strategic planning can then aim to close that gap. Analysis summarized in the foregoing discussion indicates that, viewed most broadly, our main tasks are as follows:
- To assess student learning and personal development, broadly and systematically.
- To benchmark graduate satisfaction, broadly and systematically.
- To benchmark employer satisfaction, broadly and systematically.
- To utilize assessment data for program improvement, budgeting, and planning.
Several high-impact initiatives can be undertaken to address these strategic challenges. We outline them below. In several cases it appears that we can take specific steps to advance these purposes in the immediate future. Those steps are identified as suggested priorities for immediate action.
Initiative 1: UNK will systematically assess student learning.
Suggested Action Priorities
- Develop expertise in understanding and implementing various strategies for assessing student learning outcomes
- Develop methods to encourage "faculty ownership" of assessment
- Identify and assist in implementing "best practices" and satisfying NCA 2003-04 site visit expectations in assessment of educational outcomes
- Determine the extent that each department's assessment plan fulfills these "best practices" and NCA expectations
- Identify which departments are following their assessment plans and are up-to-date in implementing their plans
- Document curricular changes that have resulted from the information learned from assessment
- Determine what technical and financial support should be provided to departments to enhance implementation of their assessment plans
- Participate in campus-wide Academic Program Review
- Recommend the structure, duties, and powers of a permanent assessment committee
- Develop a schedule for completion of the above tasks
Initiative 2: UNK will develop a system to assess student development outside the classroom and the quality of the extra-curricular experience in general.
Initiative 3: UNK will annually benchmark against external and internal measures.
Suggested Action Priorities:
- UNK will annually benchmark common indicators used in higher education, retention rate and six-year graduation rate for examples.
- UNK will identify top-quality, external comparators for each program - each program will evaluate the characteristics of excellence in the comparators and its status with respect to these characteristics.
- UNK will develop and conduct surveys to systematically obtain information from current and former students, employers, and others as appropriate.
- UNK will develop a plan to evaluate systematically the impact of information technology and other infrastructure investments.
- UNK will develop plans to evaluate the impact on student learning of collaborative research, internship experiences, and service-learning experiences.
Initiative 4: UNK will utilize assessment data in strategic planning and budgeting
Suggested Action Priorities
- Include assessment program status and results in the academic prioritization process.
- Requests for UNK budget enhancement will consider needs identified in assessment.
- Internal resource allocation processes will consider needs identified in assessment.
- External funding initiatives will, to the extent possible, seek to address needs identified in assessment.