Indirect Measures: Preparation for Work, Citizenship, and Lifelong Learning

Colleges and Universities continue to struggle with locating evidence of student learning, regardless of criteria or standard for accreditation. I’ve seen institutions battle with locating evidence, interpreting its meaning, and discussing its implications for the teaching and learning environment.

It doesn’t have to be so hard.

Preparing students for the world of work, engaged citizenship, and lifelong learning represent only a few constructs of interest to accreditors across the United States. While direct measures of students’ cognitive and non-cognitive gains during their time with us represent the strongest forms of evidence, faculty members and administrators can enjoy a richer dialogue around information collected from a robust survey research program.

But, what does this look like?

Cultivating Institutional Research Capacity to Assure Quality

Across my campus visits, I continue to see that learning communities experience institutional research and assessment offices with bewilderment and disorientation. The broader puzzlement remains centered in the unit’s expectations and purposes, regardless of workgroups and initiatives to bridge research information and culture.

Campuses ought to invest heavily in institutional research (IR) offices and engage administrators in sustained conversations around a survey research program. Launching a viable IR agenda includes cultivating indirect evidence of phenomena linked to workplace preparation, citizenship, and lifelong learning.

Let’s briefly discuss just four tools you might consider:

  1. The Cooperative and Institutional Research Program (CIRP) – Housed within the Higher Education Research Institute, the CIRP is the largest and oldest empirical study of higher education in the United States. The CIRP boasts five unique survey opportunities for institutions, which represent the strongest indirect measures of said constructs, and many more. Particularly helpful, the CIRP has an accreditation page to help institutions more firmly understand how information collected from their validated survey instruments is connected to regulatory expectations.
  2. Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) – If you’re representing a two-year institution, the CCSSE is a well-established tool, helping institutions focus on areas of good educational practice and identify areas for improvement. Like the CIRP, the CCSSE offers a Faculty Survey, which elicits information from faculty about their perceptions regarding students’ educational experiences, their teaching practices, and the ways they spend their professional time—both in and out of the classroom. See here for tools to help community colleges prepare to administer the CCSSE.
  3. The Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) – This Harvard-based consortium of institutional leaders focuses on faculty recruitment, retention, and development. Provided that the faculty are owners of the curriculum and directly impact the extent to which institutions are preparing students, a deeper understanding of the faculty body lends substantial credibility to information on any other construct within the teaching and learning environment. Consider their instruments, here.
  4. Economic Modeling – Colleges and universities are called to show strong evidence of curricular alignment with a variety of gainful employment outcomes. Emsi is a leading company, focusing on the student-to-employment journey via economic and workforce development data. Institutions are greatly benefited by Emsi’s work to drive student success initiatives via local, regional, and national economic trend information and powerful labor market analytics.

How are your faculty and administration using valid, reliable data in order to drive their decision-making?

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