The Unique Challenge of Assessment at Community Colleges

February 1, 2022 Tayler Conklin

A fresh perspective on assessment is essential for community colleges to produce strong learning outcomes and drive program completions. Watermark and NILOA coordinated a panel discussion that offered a look at how top leaders at several community colleges continually evolve their assessment processes. Consider these strategies for your institution.

What Makes Assessment at Community Colleges Unique?

Community colleges have more flexibility in how their general education classes are designed and also offer different educational paths like certifications, workforce training, and associate degrees. This variety makes assessment more complicated. “We have about 39 transfer programs that run the gamut —industrial programs, medical programs, culinary arts programs. Finding ways to assess those programs, which have a lot of high-contact hours, can be challenging,” says Jill Millard, Associate Vice President of Planning & Institutional Effectiveness at South Piedmont Community College.

Smaller class sizes can also pose a planning issue. “We cannot assess on a yearly basis because we might only have four or five graduates in any given program, so it puts a new spin on assessment and makes us really think about how we can assess our programs and our student progress,” states Kathy Adair, Director of Development & Assessment and Social Science Department Chair at Bay Mills Community College.

Assessment for Adjunct Faculty

Many educators at community colleges are adjunct faculty teaching as a second job, so they have less time for administrative tasks like creating in-depth assessment plans. To simplify the concept of assessment, it's helpful to tie it back to their “day job.”

“One way I like to connect with adjuncts is to remind them that they’ve been assessing at their workplace already—they just didn’t call it that. So if you were evaluating employees, what does the occupation require? You can connect that to the program, and then kind of teach them the concept of assessment from there,” Millard states.

Jacob Ashby, Assistant Dean for Assessment & Articulation at Frederick Community College, suggests the following resources to help support adjunct faculty:

  • Assigning full-time faculty liaisons in each department as champions to support adjunct faculty
  • Holding “adjunct faculty nights” each semester for assessment-related training
  • Scheduling open labs each semester where adjunct faculty can come in and enter data
  • Creating an online resource page with useful information for adjunct faculty
  • Sending personalized emails with helpful information on submitting data for specific courses

Watermark’s Role in Supporting Meaningful Assessment

All of the panelists agreed that technology plays an essential role in supporting meaningful assessment at their institutions.

“The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) was pretty impressed with the role of technology and the reports that we’re able to present to them for continuous improvement within our courses and our programs. It’s just been great, and I don’t want to go back to binders,” said Adair.

To learn more about how to improve assessment processes at your community college, watch the Assessment Success Strategies for Community Colleges panel discussion.

Previous Article
Tips for Engaging Underperforming Students
Tips for Engaging Underperforming Students

Student retention is a primary goal for all higher ed institutions, but a dip in student engagement can qui...

Next Article
How to Conquer Three Common Assessment Challenges
How to Conquer Three Common Assessment Challenges

All higher education institutions face challenges with their assessment processes. Learn how Watermark solu...