Assessing Student Learning
Southern determines at regular intervals how well, faithfully, and completely the university promotes student learning. The university has a systematic approach to the assessment of student learning. This approach promotes academic excellence and improves academic program quality. As a result, the university is able to make curricular and programmatic changes based on evidence. In this way, the university models to the students a sense of curiosity and self growth.
Southern’s innovative undergraduate Liberal Education Program (LEP) is continually evaluated to make sure that students are learning and progressing as expected. LEP’s aim is to promote students’ mastery of such competencies as critical thinking, information literacy, multilingual communication, oral communication, quantitative reasoning, technological fluency, and written communication. These competencies are desired by employers. Interdisciplinary teams of faculty have collaborated to develop assessments to measure how well the university is promoting these competencies among the students. LEP also addresses areas of knowledge and experience (American experience, natural world, cultural expressions, global awareness, etc.) that educated citizens are expected to know. The LEP evaluation of students’ mastery of competencies and areas of knowledge contributes to planning program revisions and individual course improvements.
In parallel with the university-wide assessment of student learning, each major has developed specific learning outcomes that reflect the knowledge, competencies, attitudes, and behaviors expected of graduates.
At the graduate level, students are expected to demonstrate mastery of disciplinary knowledge and make contributions to their chosen discipline through scholarly inquiry. To successfully complete a graduate program, students are required to demonstrate this mastery through a variety of assessment methods used throughout their program and to complete a capstone experience (e.g., comprehensive exam, special project, thesis). All programs have established methods of evaluating student performance and measuring overall program outcomes.
In order to ensure academic excellence and the continuous improvement of academic program quality, the university engages in the periodic, systematic, and comprehensive review of every academic program. The program review process meets the expectations of the New England Commission of Higher Education, our regional accreditation body. The focus of academic program review is the assessment of student learning. Other indicators of quality and productivity are evaluated as well. Program faculty use data obtained through the program review process to implement curriculum changes, as needed.
Southern’s Office of Assessment and Planning conducts an ongoing assessment of student learning throughout the university. For example, freshmen and seniors complete the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA), a performance-based assessment. In contrast to multiple-choice standardized tests, performance-based assessments provide students with a series of tasks that require them to integrate critical thinking and written communication skills. Each tasks assesses students’ analytic reasoning and evaluation, problem solving, writing effectiveness, and writing mechanics. Southern was also a pilot site for the Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes, an international study conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Students’ experiences at the university are also closely watched. For example, Southern participates in the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), which is administered to freshmen and seniors. The survey measures the amount of time and effort students put into their studies and other educationally purposeful activities.
The university participates in the Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA) and was an early adopter of the College Portrait. The portrait provides extensive information about the university’s programs, students, faculty, campus life, admissions policies, and more. Also, the portrait includes information on students’ retention, learning experiences, and satisfaction. The portrait contains information about costs of attendance and financial aid, as well as statements about undergraduate student success and progress.
Accreditation is another indicator of program quality. In addition to the regional accreditation by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), which accredits the university as a whole, selected programs also receive national recognition by accrediting agencies that are related to their specific disciplines. Accrediting agencies that have determined that the university is meeting these standards include the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), American Chemical Society, American Counseling Association Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), American Library Association (ALA), Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP), Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE), Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, Computer Accreditation Commission of ABET, Council on Academic Accreditation of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH), Council on Social Work Education, National Association of School Psychology (NASP), National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).