Institute Occasional Paper 5: Valuing Assessment
Nearly every U.S. accredited college and university allocates resources to support assessment of student learning outcomes, satisfaction, and other measures of institutional effectiveness. But with only limited data about best practices in budgeting for assessment, colleges are left guessing how much they should spend on assessment to achieve the best return on their investment. So how can a campus know when enough spending is really enough? Randy Swing, Executive Director of the Association of Institutional Research (AIR), and Christopher Coogan AIR Chief of Staff and Director of the Data and Decisions® Academy, examine the “what should assessment cost” question. The authors systematically unpack what needs to be taken into account when allocating resources to the assessment of student learning outcomes.
Nearly every U.S. accredited college and university allocates resources to support assessment of student learning outcomes, satisfaction, and other measures of institutional effectiveness. But with only limited data about best practices in budgeting for assessment, colleges are left guessing how much they should spend on assessment to achieve the best return on their investment. The complexity of planning assessment budgets is increasing as institutions engage in a growing array of assessment activities and select from a rapidly expanding field of assessment service providers and instrument publishers. Whether deciding on direct or indirect resource allocations, there are many more opportunities for spending than resources available. So how can a campus know when enough spending is really enough?
There are no simple answers or even simple ways to calculate which expenditures should be counted, or not counted, as assessment costs. Certainly there are direct costs that are easy to identify and indirect costs, such as faculty time, that are far more difficult to estimate and that should be counted. Unfortunately, campuses may focus too much on controlling their spending on assessment without equal focus on maximizing the value of the benefits derived from assessment. The true cost of assessment is determined by comparing costs relative to benefits. As such, there are two opportunities for a campus to influence the cost of assess- ment; prudence in using campus resources (controlling expenditures), and assurance that assessment results produce tangible benefits (increasing the value). The application of basic cost accounting principles, good practices such as intentional design of assessment initiatives, and application of cost-saving approaches can inform decisions about resource allocations in support of assessment.
Randy L. Swing is the Executive Director of the Association for Institutional Research (AIR). AIR is a professional association of nearly 4,000 institutional researchers, planners, and decision makers representing over 1,500 higher education institutions around the world. Prior to joining AIR, Swing served as Co-Director & Senior Scholar at the Policy Center on the First Year of College and as a fellow in the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition at the University of South Carolina. He has worked with numerous research teams in Japan, and served as an advisor to the Quality Assurance Agency of Scotland. He has authored articles, chapters, monographs, and books, including Achieving and Sustaining Excellence in the First College Year (2006) and Proving and Improving: Tools and Techniques for Assessing the First College Year (2004). He is a frequent speaker at national and international conferences on institutional change, assessment, retention, and undergraduate student success. He serves on the editorial/review boards for the Journal of General Education, The Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, and Innovative Higher Education. For two decades prior to 1999, he held various leadership positions at Appalachian State University in assessment, advising, Upward Bound, and Freshman Seminar. He holds a Ph.D. in Higher Education from the University of Georgia, MA and ED.S from Appalachian State University, and a B.A. in Psychology from the University of North Carolina – Charlotte. Randy began postsecondary education as a first-generation college student at Davidson County Community College in Lexington, NC.
Christopher S. Coogan is Chief of Staff and Director of the Data and Decisions®Academy at the Association for Institutional Research (AIR). He has oversight for contracts and grants, IT, and serves on the senior leadership team. In this role he leads the Association’s training programs for IR officers at two-year institutions, the national training program for IPEDS reporters, grants to support research and dissertations, and other AIR membership services.
Previously, Christopher served as Associate Director of the University of Florida’s Institute of Higher Education and Assistant Editor of the Florida Journal of Educational Administration and Practice (FJEAP). In 2005, he was awarded the University of Florida’s Alumni Fellowship, its most prestigious, for doctoral studies in higher education. Christopher has an Associate of Arts in Accounting from Manatee Community College and Bachelor’s and Master’s of Accounting degrees from the University of Florida. In addition, he is a graduate student in UF’s Higher Education Administration program. Christopher is a frequent presenter at institutional research conferences and active in the Achieving the Dream initiative. His research focus is on the field of institutional research and the national capacity, especially at community colleges, to conduct meaningful institutional research.
This Occasional Paper was featured in the AIR E-newsletter in June 2010.
"The fusion of their [Swing & Coogan] conceptual understandings and front-line experiences produced a compelling, accessible analysis of what should be considered when estimating the costs of assessment."
George D. Kuh