- Assessing General Education Programs
As evidenced most recently by the flurry of draft reports from the Spellings Commission, institutions of higher education are being pressured to become more accountable for the outcomes of their graduates. Accrediting bodies, legislatures, parents, funders, and others have long been concerned about whether college students acquire the knowledge and skills to be successful in the workplace and to become effective participants in our democratic society. However, these stakeholders are now increasingly demanding concrete evidence of the value of higher education's contributions to students and the general public.
In her latest publication, Assessing General Education Programs, Mary Allen describes general education as the core of the undergraduate curriculum for all students, regardless of their major. This component is designed to ensure the development of the essential learning abilities and competencies in demand by employers, such as oral and written communication, critical thinking, information literacy, and quantitative skills. Not surprisingly, the heightened calls for accountability in higher education seem to focus on these general education outcomes. Thankfully, Allen comes to the rescue of those responsible for designing and implementing plans to assess general education programs.
Allen's book delivers useful advice for practitioners, sharing models of general education programs and appropriate assessment techniques across a wide array of institutional types. As she states in the preface, her purpose in writing this book was to provide "a compact, practical guide for busy professionals who want to assess their general education program in meaningful, manageable, and sustainable ways" (iv). My review of her resulting publication reveals that she succeeded very well in accomplishing her purpose. [End Page 169]
Chapter 1 provides a broad overview of general education principles and assessment basics, in brief. The second chapter focuses on the mission, goals, and outcomes associated with general education programs, including examples of these outcomes from a variety of institutions with differing missions. The next few chapters deal with the nuts and bolts of developing and implementing an assessment plan for general education. These chapters include advice and examples related to aligning curriculum with general education outcomes, selecting assessment methods, and assigning responsibilities. The closing chapter brings together suggestions for reporting assessment results, managing the assessment committee, and sustaining assessment efforts across campus.
So, do we really need another book on how to do assessment in higher education? Although some experts recommend integrating general education outcomes and their assessment into the majors (Banta & Associates, 2002; Walvoord & Anderson, 1998), many institutions still support a separate general education program. Allen's book focuses specifically on assessing general education, so that faculty and administration are not forced to guess at how to apply assessment techniques to general education outcomes. And by providing a variety of assessment examples from 43 institutions of higher education throughout the book, Allen moves the discussion of general education assessment from theory to practice. This practitioner focus is the core of Allen's unique contribution to the assessment of general education.
Assessing general education outcomes is a challenging assignment because of the nature and purpose of the program. General education curriculum is the responsibility of all faculty, yet no one individual or group is held accountable for program results (Aloi, Gardner, & Lusher, 2003). However, as faculty at institutions of higher education continue to discuss and experiment with techniques to meet the call for accountability of general education outcomes, Assessing General Education Programs will serve as a valuable resource. [End Page 170]
Susan L. Aloi is an assistant professor and the director of the master's in education program at West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon. Her teaching and research interests include assessment, strategic planning, and community-based learning (firstname.lastname@example.org).