Assessment as a Strategic Tool to Advance the University

Today, assessment is valued throughout the University and is integrated at both the programmatic and operational levels. Rather than having a separate office of assessment, each unit is responsible for assessing outcomes and progress toward the goals for which the unit has responsibility. Accountability is ensured through documented reporting processes and the linking of planning, assessment, and budgeting. In some cases, activities are further coordinated through campus- or school-level committees. Each school and campus reports annually on its assessment of progress toward goals as part of the annual planning and budgeting cycle.

Oversight responsibility at the institutional level depends upon the category of assessment. Institutional effectiveness responsibilities are assigned to appropriate levels within the institution with ultimate oversight and responsibility by the corresponding vice chancellors and the Chancellor. Oversight for the assessment of student experiences is provided by the Enrollment Management Committee on the Pittsburgh campus, and other campuses have similar structures all ultimately reporting to the Provost. The faculty of each program is responsible for the assessment of student learning with oversight by the appropriate dean, president, and vice provost and, ultimately, the Provost.

The progress of the University of Pittsburgh over the past 15 years has been driven significantlyby the effective use of assessment as a guide to planning and budgeting and as a tool for making change. During this time, there has been a notable increase University-wide in the use of assessment to help measure progress toward the stated goals and in the degree to which faculty, staff, and administrators recognize the importance of assessment in helping the University to attain these goals.

Institutional planning, driven by the University’s Planning and Budgeting System, combines long-range planning and budgeting; operational plans and budgets; personnel, capital, and financial budgets; and the assessment of University programs and responsibility centers. This self-study report demonstrates how assessment has led to many institutional advancements in operational efficiency and effectiveness and how the University has used assessment to make decisions about institution-wide infrastructure investment. These include the critical areas of information technology, facilities, and the library system (Institutional Effectiveness section II D).

The successful use of assessment in planning, program development, and resource allocation within the academic units also is demonstrated in this report. The academic planning process provides for resource allocation based on the stated long-term goals of the unit. The plans include strategies and actions, targeted outcomes, and methods of assessment that can include reviews of planning and budgeting documents, examination of a wide range of data collected by various units, and evaluations of proposals for new programs, to name a few. Resources are reallocated based on the consistent application of a variety of assessment practices followed by thoughtful reflection that indicates a change of strategy is warranted. This report provides examples of how assessment became the decision-making tool that led to revisions in academic programs and majors, reallocations of faculty lines, and improvements in student services (Institutional Effectiveness section II C).

Major developments in data collection and evaluation methods have included the benchmarking of performance indicators relative to peer and aspirational institutions (see Figures 1and 2 in the Institutional Effectiveness section), which serves an important function in planning and resource allocation, and in the systematic collection of data used in making assessments that result in improvements in the student experience. These include retention and graduation rates, student satisfaction surveys, participation in national student surveys, graduation and alumni surveys, and many others (Student Experience section III D).

The regular review of this information has provided senior administrators with important feedback on the progress of the institution in achieving its stated mission and goals as well as in identifying areas of challenge and opportunity for future investigation and emphasis. Using internal benchmarks and student surveys, for example, the University has been able to demonstrate progress on a number of key criteria and answer the question “Is the University of Pittsburgh getting better?” The following charts show progress over time on some of these key indicators: