For many years, the University has conducted periodic evaluations of academic programs as a substantive and consistent way to ensure high-quality academic programs. Traditionally, these evaluations focused on inputs such as the quality of the program faculty, the structure of the curriculum, and the availability of resources (see the Guidelines for Conducting Evaluations of Academic Programs). Until recently, however, the University did not systematically include in these reviews regular, ongoing assessments of the outcomes of the academic programs that would allow it to determine, in a consistent way, the extent to which graduates left the institution with the skills and knowledge they needed to be successful.

The first efforts to use outcomes assessment were in the form of indirect evidence such as retention rates, graduation rates, and student surveys to assess and guide program development. In the early 2000s, several different schools and programs began to look systematically at direct evidence of student learning outcomes as part of their evaluation of academic programs. Several of the professional programs, such as engineering and medicine, began to incorporate assessment of learning outcomes into their comprehensive graduate and professional programs began routinely collecting data on student placements; and the collection of placement data on undergraduates was strengthened.

By the mid-2000s, the University was using a variety of assessment activities on its campuses, including collecting both direct and indirect evidence of student learning. As a natural progression of University-wide discussions and the real progress individual schools and campuses had made in assessing student learning, in 2006, the Council of Deans established guidelines regarding institutional expectations for ongoing and regular assessment of student learning. Today, the University has a comprehensive, ongoing practice of assessing student learning outcomes, which leads to improved academic programs.