Student Affairs Divisional Assessment
Cal Poly Pomona
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Brief Background on Assessment and Accountability

Brief Background on Assessment and Accountability

Until the late 20th century, the public felt that “education was good and that our system of higher education was doing a good job” (Upcraft & Schuh, 1996, p. 5).  In the past 30 years, however, the general public started to question the value and quality of higher education.  They felt that college graduates were unprepared for the workplace, that the cost of attending college was greater than the benefit, and that underrepresented populations continued to face issues of access and equity (Commission on the Future of Higher Education, 2006; Greater Expectations National Panel, 2002; Upcraft & Schuh, 1996; Wingspread Group on Higher Education, 1993). 

 As a result, higher education institutions started to be held accountable and the assessment movement began.  Assessment was thought to be a fad in the 1970’s, but in the mid-1980’s national reports such as Involvement in Learning from the National Institute of Education (1984) and College: The Undergraduate Experience in America from Ernest Boyer’s Carnegie Foundation report (1987) (as cited in Upcraft & Schuh, 1996), called for greater accountability in higher education and accreditation agencies began using assessment as a criterion for institutional effectiveness.  As higher education submitted to the external pressures of accountability and the internal pressures of improvement, so too did the divisions within the institution, including student affairs.

 A main goal of postsecondary institutions is education, and learning is the process through which students are educated (Keeling, Wall, Underhile, & Dungy, 2008).  Assessment is therefore important because higher education, including student affairs, needs to prove that students are learning (Astin, 1991).  Assessment of learning is a means to provide accountability.  Assessment is done not only by collecting data, such as test scores or demographics, but also by collecting evidence to questions that address students’ abilities, skills, development, and competencies (Keeling et al., 2008).  As a result, assessment is an accountability tool to improve the quality of educational effectiveness and learning (Keeling et al., 2008).

 Astin, A. W. (1991). Assessment for excellence: The philosophy and practice of assessment and evaluation in higher education. New York: American Council on Education/Macmillan Publishing Company.

 Commission on the Future of Higher Education. (2006). A test of leadership: Charting the future of U.S. higher education. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.  Retrieved from

Greater Expectations National Panel. (2002). Greater expectations: A new vision for learning as a nation goes to college. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities. Retrieved from

 Keeling, R. P. (Ed.). (2006). Learning reconsidered 2:A practical guide to implementing a campus-wide focus on the student experience. Washington, DC: American College Personnel Association, Association of College and University Housing Officers-International, Association of College Unions-International, National Academic Advising Association, National Association for Campus Activities, National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association.

Keeling, R. P., Wall, A. F., Underhile, R., & Dungy, G. J. (2008). Assessment reconsidered: Institutional effectiveness for student success. USA: International Center for Student Success and Institutional Accountabliltiy.

StudentVoice. (2010). Student affairs assessment. Retrieved October 5, 2010, from

Upcraft, M. L., & Schuh, J. H. (1996). Assessment in student affairs: A guide for practitioners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Wingspread Group on Higher Education. (1993). An American imperative: Higher expectations for higher education. Racine, WI: The Johnson Foundation.

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