Are They Ready? But Even More …How Do We Know?
With memories of Commencement still fresh in my mind, I have been thinking about many of the individual graduates who will be beginning their professional lives in the coming days. In some cases, I helped to advise them regarding a career choice or an employment opportunity. In other cases, I wrote a letter of recommendation or made a phone call as a reference. And in many cases, I simply listened to them speak about their professional goals and aspirations.
While I have great confidence in the quality and integrity of both our academic programs and co-curricular activities, I can’t help but wonder if these graduates are ready to embark on their careers. Their success will be dependent on their knowledge, their wisdom and their maturity … and, of course, the “fit” with their employers. My assessment of readiness is based on some obvious factors … GPA, list of activities, comments from faculty and staff, and my personal interactions. But in the end, how do we know if they are really ready?
Answering this question is the focus of a group called the New Leadership Alliance for Student Learning and Accountability. Since 2009, this group has focused its attention on the assessment of student learning and promoting both transparency and evidence based accountability. Simply said, colleges should be able to answer the question “How Do We Know?” with clear and objective evidence of student achievement rather than relying primarily on anecdotes and impressions.
A recent report from the New Leadership Alliance entitled, “Committing to Quality” provides some helpful guidelines to creating a more credible assessment model and accountability system at colleges and universities. While not all leaders in higher education, including many faculty organizations, agree with the Alliance’s recommendations, this movement towards evidence based assessment is a good thing.
An important element of the Alliance’s work is their advocacy that these efforts towards greater accountability be both voluntary and self-directed. The higher education community often bristles at the notion that federal or state governmental agencies will oversee quality control in higher education. Most colleges and universities welcome transparency and accountability. But the concern is that a national standard controlled by Washington is unlikely to be meaningful or effective. First, it suggests that one system of accountability will be relevant for the diverse and varied population of colleges and universities. Second, it assumes that large federal or state bureaucracies can and will be effective.
It is true that colleges and universities have not always provided clear and complete evidence of their efficacy. But if it is going to happen … and it should … the higher education community has to take both the lead and the responsibility.
The approach suggested by the Alliance makes a good deal of sense. Here is their approach:
“The New Leadership Alliance for Student Learning and Accountability leads and supports voluntary and cooperative efforts to move the higher education community toward gathering, reporting on, and using evidence to improve student learning in American undergraduate education.
The Alliance envisions a self-directed, professional higher education community that produces an increasing number of college graduates with high-quality degrees in preparation for work, life, and responsible citizenship.
Through the promotion of shared principles, recommended actions, and innovative initiatives, the Alliance aims to:
- Shape attitudes, practices, and policies related to gathering, reporting on, and using evidence to improve student learning.
- Promote the establishment of new professional norms for gathering, reporting on, and using evidence of student learning.
- Increase public confidence in the quality of undergraduate education provided by American colleges and universities.”
Are our students learning? How do we know? Next week I will share the Alliance’s guidelines and recommendations.