In its 1987 self-study, Colgate found itself enjoined by the process to do something it had, for some reason, not yet donepublicly articulate its mission. Now, ten years later, we find that that Mission Statement has provoked, in varying degrees of assent and qualification, discussions that have defined what we are more precisely to ourselves. The self-study process also requires an institution to review its mechanisms for assessing the outcome of its operations. This is a requirement that we address comfortably enough in most respects (see section 9 in Part II below) but that we find particularly difficult to do in terms of the curriculum.
A self-study with its focus on the curriculum is the obvious starting point, however, for an institutional effort trained on assessing that element. This effort should involve us in
Thinking about the curriculum in terms of our institutions missions, goals, and objectives
As we have already noted in the introduction to this Part I of our report (and see also Part II, section 2, below), this self-study process has put our Mission Statement before the faculty and the community as a whole, asking everyone to comment on the degree to which it articulates the logic of the institution as they understand it. Throughout the process of interviewing faculty on a program-by-program, department-by-department basis, the steering committee especially urged that conversations include discussions of the goals of specific parts of the curriculum as they relate to our sense of mission. This experience has caused us often to reflect on a statement in the Commission on Higher Educations pamphlet "Framework for Outcomes Assessment":
If a mission statement does not exist or has been ignored and forgotten, or is too generic to be taken seriously, or in other respects is no longer a helpful reality for the campus, the institution should develop a current and clear mission (p. 16).
Our mission statement, of course, as we note above, was not articulated until five years ago and since that time, until the steering committee of the self-study began its work, it was not widely disseminated in the various constituencies of the institution. While our conversations about it in those constituencies were very helpfully focused by the document we have, we also discovered in those conversations that many members of this community feel that we should strive to state our mission more elegantly. It is particularly important to reconsider our Mission Statement as the results of this self-study are incorporated into the regular workings of the institution. This process set out to make us more self-conscious, and it has done that. Moreover, discussions of new initiatives, as outlined in section 8 above, will be especially significant to consider in relation to what our Mission Statement says. Finally, we expect that the results of this self-study, in many areas, will lead to clarification of what is now only implicit in our Mission Statementthe goals and objectives of the college. (See Part II, section 2 below.)
Assessment procedures for elements of the curriculum
Some aspects of the curriculum are already formally assessed.
Departments and programs should designate a historian to keep track of graduated concentrators. The person in the department or program who serves this function should be known for this function by students when they are here, and department budgets should include funds for initiating contact with graduates.
In some fields, however, students are out of the institution several years before they join the graduate program or profession that will define them in their adult lives. One department (see SD 39) surveys its graduates several years out of Colgate.
Departments should consider what shape a survey of their alumni concentrators would ideally take. They should also consider conducting such a survey.
The steering committee noted that the Office of Career Services can now retrieve information about graduates more comprehensively and effectively for departments and programs.
The Office of Career Services should continue to develop procedures for gathering information about the patterns our graduates follow.
The required form of annual reports should continue to solicit this information. (See SD 39.)
The Dean of Colleges office should refine the procedure for administering the senior survey so the data we gather from it can be statistically significant.
These are the major elements of curricular assessment currently in place. Others may be more appropriate, however, and a procedure for considering future development in this area is discussed below.
Making sure that assessment has an impact on curricular planning
There is good evidence that what assessment we currently do is incorporated into local decisions about the curriculum.
It is at the more global level of the DAC that the steering committee suggests we locate our resolve to be more systematic about the assessment of the curriculum.
The DAC should familiarize itself with resources in the field of outcome assessment. Acting as a collective body, it should formulate a plan to improve and increase how we currently assess outcomes of the curriculum. Acting individually in relation to the departments and programs in their respective divisions, members of the DAC should assist departments and programs to refine their efforts. Within the Academic Affairs Board, the DAC should introduce the concept of assessment into faculty-student discussions of curricular matters.
The Academic Affairs Board should consider how to analyze the curriculum, particularly the required curriculum, with respect to the specified outcomes the college sets its curriculum to achieve.
The value of the function that the DAC serves in our curricular governance is particularly clear with respect to assessment.
Disseminating what we learn from assessment procedures
Liberal arts faculty are often reluctant to use the language of outcomes and assessment. Perhaps there is some defensiveness and snobbery in this, but it may also have more respectable causes. It is probably true that the least valuable things we could do for our students are the easiest to measure; and conversely, it is difficult even to articulate let alone assess what we value most in the educational process.
Nonetheless, seeing the curriculum in terms of outcomes, including but certainly not confined to the content of the various courses that we teach, is vital to both the process of what we do and the way that process is viewed. Students need to internalize the self-confidence to which their education entitles them to take themselves seriously as students. They also need to be able to communicate its value to prospective employers, parents, and others who control access to opportunities they wish to pursue. Increasingly, colleges also need to articulate the more broadly focused outcomes of curricula themselves to students and parents, to alumni, to the government and foundations. Talking about the outcomes we strive to achieve can also focus curricular discussions in ways that can get beyond controversies over the relative value of the subjects and methods that define the academic disciplines. The steering committee certainly appreciated this result of thinking in terms of outcomes in the course of this self-study process.
We seem to talk about outcomes in terms of three elements of the life our students live when they leave here: work, citizenship, and personal satisfactions. Although these categories overlap, each embraces elements that seem less proper to one or both of the others. We list, under each category, the outcomes of the curriculum we think are most related to each one.
Work-related outcomes of the curriculum
The following are career attributes addressed by the curriculum that are more general than mastery of particular bodies of information:
Citizenship outcomes for the curriculum
Many of the career attributes listed previously are also important for graduates in their roles as members of society, especially thinking, information literacy, quantitative confidence, and seeing through others eyes. To them, we add
Personal Outcomes of the Curriculum
These outcomes are the hardest to track and, perhaps not coincidentally at a liberal arts college, for many students and faculty, they seem the most important and the most elemental to the kind of school we are. The music course that led to a life-long passion for chamber music, the art course that is remembered on every trip to a museum, the politics course that makes one read the New York Times OpEd every day, the science course that illuminates the reports from a spaceship on Mars, classes in philosophy or literature or art that raise issues a young adult can barely grasp but which take on deeper significance with maturity: all of these may have a profound influence on a students later life. Our curriculum demands and rewards qualities that lead students to these experiences.
As we consider how to assess the degree to which the curriculum brings about these outcomes in students, we should take advantage of procedures and instruments we already have even as we consider devising others. We may wish to track information that is quite specific. For example, while it is imprecise to measure outcome by assuming that students learn everything that is taught in a given course, some assessment of the degree to which our curriculum can claim to have certain outcomes can by gathered from the work that students produce in the required curriculum. An instrument would probably have to be devised to survey faculty about their courses in all parts of the curriculum: amount of writing required, numbers of presentations, use of library, number and nature of long-term projects, inclusion of units on ways to retrieve information and other technological skills, work in a foreign language and attention to other cultures.
Our sense of the outcomes of the education we offer is something to share with students and their parents.
First-year orientation should make students more self-aware about the outcomes of their Colgate education, especially those concerning citizenship and life-enrichment. Senior events such as the "Real World" series should also address volunteering, local government, supporting the arts, connecting ones education with ones later life. Events for alumni or parents should encourage participants
to think of the outcomes of a Colgate education in all dimensions of a students life.
We should take care to keep the conversation focused not only on specific skills but on those skills as means to a larger end. These will be new kinds of conversations for us at Colgate. As we continue to strive to distinguish ourselves as an institution, they are particularly important conversations to have with our students, while they are here and after they are graduated.