“What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been: Three Decades of Outcomes Assessment in Higher Education”

E. Fletcher McClellan

cheering woman hiker open arms at mountain peak cliffThis article examines outcomes assessment in higher education as a case study of policy implementation, analyzing why the assessment movement has encountered difficulty in achieving campus involvement and acceptance over the past three decades. One reason is that outcomes assessment is viewed by higher education professionals as externally-imposed, thus intruding on their professional autonomy. Secondly, the “complexity of joint action” frustrates implementation actors such as regional accrediting agencies, which are supposed to encourage institutional improvement and at the same time serve as arms of federal enforcement. Third, assessment in higher education meets few if any conditions of effective implementation. There is conflict over the goals of assessment, what outcomes should be assessed, how institutions can improve outcomes, and whether efforts to publicize outcomes performance will influence the marketplace. Furthermore, higher education institutions support assessment in general, but actively oppose specific initiatives such as President Obama’s attempt to rate colleges on his College Scorecard. Despite these obstacles, there is greater acceptance of assessment as a tool for educational program improvement, and assessment activity and use have risen in the past decade. While political science has acquiesced to conducting assessment, greater commitment can enhance student learning and the status of the discipline.

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PS: Political Science & Politics / Volume 49 / Issue 01 / January 2016, pp 88-92

Copyright © American Political Science Association 2016