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Drexel Drives the Formation of a Higher Education Assessment Group

Last spring Steve DiPietro, Associate Vice Provost for Institutional Research and Assesment at Drexel University, attended a Town Hall Meeting sponsored by MSCHE in reference to the new standards of accreditation currently being piloted. As part of the town hall process, MSCHE solicited feedback on the standards revision from attendees at an open mike. I was impressed with the number of library deans in attendance and who had apparently formed ad hoc groups throughout the region in order to voice their concern over the elimination of information literacy in the new draft standards. One after another the librarians spoke, and I began to think what power they had and how well they had articulated their concerns to the larger group. As I walked backed to campus, I thought how wonderful it would be if assessment professionals could come together on a more permanent basis to give voice to our profession in matters of public policy and advocacy, sharing best practices and professional development opportunities, pooling resources, etc.

The result of this experience was the Philadelphia Higher Education Assessment Leaders which first convened in July 2014 and meets quarterly.  This group is currently comprised of 34 members from 22 different colleges and universities from around the Delaware Valley.  The organization and leadership of assessment activities are very different on the campuses, so the positions range from staff to faculty to associate & vice provosts all of whom bring a passion for assessment.

The primary interest of the forum is how to improve teaching and the student learning experience of the Sustainable, quality and easily accessible assessment techniques can provide information to achieve these goals.  These ambitious goals not only benefit the colleges/universities as a whole, but they also tie into the new accreditation standards set forth by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.  Assessment is a major part of every one of the seven standards including support of the student experience and planning, resources and institutional improvement.  PHEAL will work to interpret the standards to make sure that all the schools involved will be able to meet all requirements.

This group will also function as a support system for all those involved who may be facing common challenges such as the multiple siloes that are often established on campus.  Many departments act independently making communication and coordination between assessment individuals and academic departments difficult.  Another major concern is the lack of funding/staff to coordinate assessment.  Often there are only a handful of individuals on each campus who are charged with organizing assessment, and often that is a job responsibility added onto something else such as teaching.  One issue that has always existed, but has moved to the forefront, given the more stringent accreditation standards is the use of data in decision making.  Data must be used to support institutional self-reflection

The charge of this group will be developed in the next meeting in late April, but it will most likely zero in on the following goals:

  • Sharing of best practices in order to utilize assessment experience across campuses
    • Resources, ideas, processes
    • Validate efforts through a uniformed effort
  • Spotlighting assessment from different campuses
    • What are the strengths and weaknesses of this program
    • Can this be implemented on my campus
  • Mentorship/professional development for new assessment professional
    • Utilizing more seasoned professionals to develop others
  • Regional advocacy for accreditation and for other issues
    • Ex: Uniform response letter about the proposed College Scorecard
  • Help to foster better teaching and student learning
    • Provide stronger results in order to help faculty members develop more meaningful courses

The Philadelphia Higher Education Assessment Leaders headquartered at Drexel University will be adding a website in the near future which would include some of the resources developed, current themes in assessment and individual assessment spotlights, etc.  Hopefully, this site will be reference for all who have an interest in assessment in higher education and wish to use assessment results to help build academic innovation and renewal.
A closing thought from Steve DiPietro “PHEAL has the potential and the capacity to grow beyond its middle states borders. Its founding membership represent a diverse and talented group of people who represent institutions which cut a wide swath in the higher education world. Our members include public and private colleges and universities, HBCU’s, urban, suburban and rural institutions, religiously affiliated institutions, large and small colleges and universities, etc. I believe that PHEAL will soon be poised to become a major voice in higher ed assessment. What pleases me most, however, is that wherever events and circumstances eventually drive PHEAL’s growth, it will forever enjoy Drexel University as its founding institution.”