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National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment

Occasional Paper 17 - Changing Institutional Culture to Promote Assessment of Higher Learning


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Hersh, R. H., & Keeling, R. P. (2013, February).Changing institutional culture to promote assessment of higher learning. (Occasional Paper No. 17). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment.


In NILOA's seventeenth occasional paper, authors Richard Hersh and Richard Keeling explain their views regarding the institutional culture in higher education and how it impacts assessment. Hersh and Keeling argue that the current state of higher learning is inadequate with regards to both quantity and quality. The authors conclude that current assessment practice for many institutions is a reactive model and that institutions need to make assessment an institutional priority.

Paper Abstract

While a national chorus of criticism reproaches the academy for its high costs, low graduation rates, lack of accountability, administrative bloat, and faculty inefficiency, a more fundamental problem looms: how to address higher education's shortfall in higher learning. To say it plainly: in both quantity and quality, college learning is inadequate. The root cause of this learning crisis is that at most institutions the campus culture itself does not prioritize and foster transformative learning. The purpose of this paper is to help realign the assessment conversation by arguing for institutional culture change that puts higher learning first and simultaneously embraces systemic assessment as a prerequisite of and central condition for a culture in which learning is the priority. First, we question the efficacy of current attempts to create "cultures of assessment" in institutions lacking a primary focus on higher learning. Second, we contend that, for too many students, learning remains incoherent due to the institutional disregard of the cumulative and collective nature of higher learning. Third, we argue that pervasive assessment is a necessary condition for providing the appropriate and timely feedback to students and faculty required for benchmarking individual student and institutional excellence. Finally, we offer our perspective on "what must be done" to build a culture of learning with assessment.

Biographies of the Authors

Peter Ewell
Richard H. Hersh
, formerly president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges and Trinity College (Hartford), currently serves as senior consultant for Keeling & Associates, LLC, a higher education consulting practice.






Carol Geary Schneider
Richard P. Keeling
, formerly a faculty member and senior student affairs administrator at the University of Virginia and the University of Wisconsin–Madison, leads Keeling & Associates. Hersh and Keeling are the authors of a new book, We're Losing Our Minds: Rethinking American Higher Education (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).