Published on 2023/08/28

Prioritizing Assessment in Student Learning and KPIs

With institutions competing for enrollments, one way of gaining and retaining learners is by implementing a student-centric assessment strategy that involves everyone across campus.

Having a successful education requires proper recognition of learning, which means assessment will play a key role in ensuring learning outcomes are matching what students want and need when it comes to their educational journey. In this interview, Douglas Geiger discusses the importance of incorporating assessment into KPIs, how to have a more student-centric strategy and best practices to achieve that student-centric model.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): Why is assessment crucial for higher education leaders to prioritize when it comes to student learning?

Douglas Geiger (DG): Student learning is the hallmark of American higher education. Acquiring knowledge and pursuing continued learning are foundational principles of American higher education. To assess this learning, we have to be ready to implement learning assessment plans. There are now many options available to us to effectively assess student learning.

One of the greatest developments in the past 20 years has been the student affairs part of the house being recognized as part of that learning. When looking at accreditation, we’re starting to talk about student learning outcomes. That wasn’t the case before, but now we have to take that learning very seriously across the institution.

Evo: How does incorporating assessment as a KPI across the institution contribute to a more student-centric strategy?

Establishing KPIs helps facilitate a more student-centric strategy. The student-centric piece comes in because, with institutional strategy, we are ultimately serving our customer—the student. I know that the term “customer” can be controversial within higher education. When I say “customer,” I say it a manner that views higher education as an educational enterprise. 

We serve an active participant—the student. So, when we look at KPIs, we want to say this person is going through a transformational experience. How are we measuring that and from what perspectives?

Evo: What are some challenges associated with assessing student learning and aligning it with broader institutional goals?

DG: The American higher education landscape has a wide variety of institutions and, as a result, no one model fits all institutions when it comes to assessing student learning. Institutions should actively engage faculty in the process of establishing student learning outcomes and assessing student learning. I’ve also had the privilege of working directly with my faculty colleagues when establishing student learning outcomes and assessments for student affairs departments. I find this type of collaboration to be very professionally rewarding.

It has also been my experience that, when describing student learning that takes place outside the traditional classroom environment, such learning is described as soft skills. I would like to see student affairs leaders change this terminology to terms that better reflect the complete student learning experience. I would argue that terms such as professional skill set or personal skills development are more accurate terms to describe student learning outcomes (SLOs) in student affairs. 

Evo: What are some effective strategies leaders can use to overcome these obstacles and start moving toward a more student-centric model?

DG: An institutional assessment committee is a great strategy. A good assessment committee is purposeful in engaging both faculty and student affairs for its membership. These actions demonstrate a learning culture that permeates all aspects of the student experience. I have found such collaborative efforts to be very rewarding.

Evo: How does student learning assessments impact the overall student experience?

DG: It really speaks to student success and retention. When students attend an institution, they want to be personally challenged. They want an experience that creates new knowledge and that is also transformative. Good assessment work is also good student retention work. If executed well, such processes lead to increased rates of student satisfaction as well as student success.

It’s become clear that higher ed leaders will be called upon to use more assessment to be able to validate student learning. The more institutions become engaged with learning assessment, the more they also create a true learning culture.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

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