Avoiding a Tragedy of the Commons
Chapter 4: The Future of Student Learning Assessment in Undergraduate Education
INTRODUCTION Assessment is a key part of any discussion involving education policy for undergraduate education for four reasons. First, concern about costs of undergraduate education is increasing. The Higher Education Price Index (HEPI) increases at a substantially higher rate than the Consumer Price Index (CPI) each year.47 College tuition rose an average of 6.5 percent for public colleges and universities and 4.4 percent for private colleges for the academic year 2009–2010 even as the CPI fell 2.1 percent.48 Why cannot higher education administrators control costs?49 A major reason is the lack of metrics against which to evaluate the costs and benefits of current resource allocations. Think of it as follows. We have a number of measures of scholarship and research productivity. And, with the use of peer review, we have what amounts to a continuous system of improvement. University leaders have a good idea about the productivity levels of the research produced across the departments in their university. However, that is not the case for the production of undergraduate education. Without measures of the contribution institutions make to student learning growth, or the absolute levels of student learning achieved, there is no reliable and valid way to evaluate the productivity of departments to the education of the college’s students. Thus, when the leaders of the institution are faced with the necessity of improving productivity by cutting costs, they find it very difficult to reallocate resources among departments and programs. They do not have a metric to benchmark student...
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