Summary of Findings and Suggestions

The Working Group on Using Assessment to Improve the Student Experience (WGSE) reviewed the University’s processes for assessing student learning in undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs and for undergraduate general education (Standard 14); the group also reviewed the processes for assessing other aspects of the undergraduate student experience, including the effectiveness of assessment in the recruitment, retention, and graduation of undergraduate students as well as student satisfaction with the undergraduate experience (portions of Standards 8, 9, 11, and 12).

WGSE found that the assessment processused to assess student learning (described in the earlier section on student learning outcomes) is consistent with the guidelines established by the Council of Deans and the standards established by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. It concluded that the assessment of student learning is appropriately done at the departmental or program level, where faculty with both the knowledge of the subject matter and regular contact with students are in the best position to explore assessment concerns; equally important, they are in the best position to use the information gathered through assessment to improve the University’s educational offerings. The working group also found evidence that assessment is now part of the culture of the University of Pittsburgh. Assessment has been integrated into the planning processes for all activities related to the student experience and into the planning and budgeting system. It offers as an example the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, which uses governance mechanisms established in its bylaws to incorporate assessment. In particular, the assessment of general education is now a principal activity of the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Council. Overall, WGSE found that the assessment of student learning processes is sound and effective. 

The working group found that the admissions offices on all campuses use a number of assessment results to improve the targeted marketing of high-ability students and to increase the geographic diversity of competitive applicants, including the use of increased involvement of Pitt alumni, parents, and faculty. They concluded that these strategies have allowed the University to maintain and expand enrollments when faced with declining numbers of high school graduates in Western Pennsylvania and to improve student qualifications.

Finally, the working group considered the various assessment initiatives and strategies used to improve other aspects of the student experience and concluded that they contributed to improvements in retention rates, graduation rates, and student satisfaction. It noted that the increase in student satisfaction was externally recognized by the Princeton Review, which in 2010 ranked the Pittsburgh campus eighth in the category of Happiest Students and 11th in the category of Best Quality of Life. The University’s ongoing assessment efforts also have allowed it to better match the attributes of its students to its mission and goals.

WGSE summarizes its findings by saying that the “assessment of student learning and of the undergraduate student experience is well thought out, it’s effective, we use it when we plan changes, and it permeates the University. It is one integrated system in which everyone participates and in which responsibilities are charged where the programs are delivered.”

All campuses have fairly well-developed processes in place to measure progress toward recruitment goals and to assess the effectiveness of recruitment strategies. The good practices have been instrumental in the success that the campuses have had in maintaining and expanding enrollments at a time when other institutions in Western Pennsylvania are experiencing declining enrollments. At the same time, these good assessment practices have assisted the campuses in better matching the qualifications of the students to the strengths of the campuses.

That said, WGSE makes the following suggestions to improve an already strong assessment process:

• Each campus is different, and what works for one campus might not work for others.Therefore, recruitment efforts on the individual campuses may be enhanced by establishing a forum for sharing results of assessment of recruitment strategies

• The University could increase centralized data collection efforts to provide useful information to all campuses. For example,when requesting information from the National Student Clearinghouse on the final enrollment of students who applied to the Pittsburgh campus, similar information could be collected for the regional campuses.

The University could further build on its success by pursuing the following suggestions:

• The University has developed many best practices in both assessment and programs; enhancing its process of sharing these across units and campuses could further develop the culture of assessment throughout the institution.

• Benchmarking data for units and programs allow them to better gauge progress against peers, so the University should continue efforts to identify and develop such data. The recent initiative to join the SERU consortium and Academic Analytics are good steps that should be supported.

• A data liaison from Computing Services and Systems Development could provide additional insight and support regarding the University’s computing capabilities and could help to make information even more accessible to deans and department chairs. Effective in fall 2011, the Provost appointed an executive data assessment liaison to become a member of the Enrollment Management Committee.