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Iowa View: State Universities Must Continuously Improve

April 25, 2014

Des Moines Register

(Special to the Register)
By Michael Bugeja, director,

Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication,
Iowa State University of Science and Technology

The value of a degree from a state university involves “assessment,” otherwise known as “continuous improvement,” a core principle in the Iowa Board of Regents’ 2010-16 strategic plan.

Many professors improve classes every semester. The problem has been documenting those enhancements.

Disciplines such as journalism, engineering and computer science often do assessment to meet accreditation standards. In journalism, for instance, the Greenlee School at Iowa State University complies with standards of the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications. However, the majority of departments and disciplines in Iowa actually, across the country typically are unaccustomed to assessment and so are being asked by regents and legislators to demonstrate how they are helping students achieve learning goals, in part to justify rising costs of higher education.

Last year, ISU was asked to comply with new state legislation requiring assessment of high-enrollment courses for outcomes, defined as “what students should know, understand, or be able to do at the end of a course.” For several years now each regent university also has reported annually the number of undergraduate degree programs doing assessment, the number with specific assessment plans, and the number measuring learning outcomes and whether those outcomes are being met for program improvement.

To some professors, these mandates seem imposing. Problems arise about the process (what, precisely, are we measuring?) academic freedom (don’t we control course content?), shared governance (who is mandating all this anyway?), time management (how can we find the hours to do this?) and, finally, recognition (why should we do this when there is no reward?).

Those issues should be addressed to meet the assessment mandate. …

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