Tips for Assessment Success at Community and Technical Colleges

January 31, 2022 Nikki Kowbel

Community colleges have unique challenges when it comes to assessment, from efficiently gathering information from adjunct faculty to managing assessment strategy and reporting for “non-traditional” programs.

Adding to the complexity? Community colleges and associate degree-granting institutions are more likely than all other schools to use placement exams, employer feedback, and local surveys. And when assessment results are used for external accountability (and external funding), the pressure increases.

Because each student enrolls with a different goal in mind, the key to a successful assessment strategy for community colleges is flexibility. This allows you to adapt course, general education, and program assessment to align with how students move through the curriculum.

Here’s how to make it happen:

Focus on Student Learning

Assessment data collection should be focused on continuous improvement, with student learning at the center of it all. Set specific goals around improvement and work backwards to define how those goals will be met. Only collect data that ties back to these goals, and know what you’re going to do with the numbers once you have them. This ensures that the time and energy spent on assessment is truly valuable, which makes it easier to get faculty on board.

Tie Assessment Back to the “Real World”

It’s often difficult to keep adjunct faculty engaged in the assessment process, particularly when they’re working a full-time job in addition to their teaching load. But private industry faculty are already familiar with the concept of assessment in their “day job” — if they’re evaluating employees and providing feedback on their performance, that’s assessment. Encourage them to ask the questions: What does the job require? What defines a good employee? By connecting these ideas back to the program, they can more easily define learning outcomes.

Use What You Have

When you start to design an assessment, start with what you’re already measuring and identify any gaps that need to be filled in. Then, adjust the measurement process or add new questions to capture any missing details. For example, you can use the indirect measures you’re gathering in regular course evaluations and general surveys to uncover students’ perception of their performance or program efficacy. However, you may need to add new survey questions to gather more insights into a specific learning outcome.

Get the Right Tools

You’re likely already collecting data in a variety of systems, but are left with a broad range of information about how students are performing (and how they feel about the coursework). By using integrated assessment and course evaluation solutions, you can take advantage of automated workflows that keep the process moving and access unified reports that bring both types of measurement together.

The higher education landscape is continuously changing and many community colleges are seeing increased enrollment as a result. Now is the time to review your assessment strategy to make sure it’s keeping pace.

Get advice from your peers in our panel discussion: Assessment Success Strategies for Community Colleges. In this replay, speakers from South Piedmont Community College, Frederick Community College, and Bay Mills Community College share their experiences with NILOA and offer tips for using technology to support assessment.

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