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Using the DQP to Structure Program Assessment in Northeastern University College of Professional Studies

Lauren Nicoll, Interim Director of Academic Quality Assurance and Assessment Data Specialist

Northeastern University College of Professional Studies (CPS) is committed to making high quality academic programs accessible to working adults and individuals from local, national, and international communities. For over 50 years, CPS has been committed to providing career-focused educational programs, offering over 40 online and blended bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs. In 2011, the College outlined its vision for its next five-year period, reaffirming its commitment to quality. In order to define the outcomes from which success may be measured, CPS began to formalize its curriculum assessment practices. The Degree Qualifications Profile helped structure this pilot process, starting with graduate programs.

The College of Professional Studies (CPS) first engaged with the Degree Qualifications Profile (DQP) in 2013 in a retreat with graduate faculty.  This half-day session addressed why degree level competencies are important; how these competencies are classified into learning domains; and how levels of mastery are qualitatively different across the different degree levels. Because faculty were developing assessment plans for their academic programs at the same time, the CPS Academic Quality Assurance office discussed how to write student learning outcomes based on action verbs that reflect an appropriate level of complexity and depth for master’s program students. The day ended with faculty breaking out into workgroups where they outlined and agreed upon the specific competencies that all graduate programs in the College would have, no matter what the discipline.

The next step for the DQP was the development of program-level student learning outcomes across the college. Lead faculty members were encouraged by the College of Professional Studies (CPS) Academic Quality Assurance office to develop outcomes for each of the five domains, which were instrumental in their ability to ensure that all of the competencies the College wants CPS graduates to master were addressed. The CPS Academic Quality Assurance office found that those programs that aligned more closely to the DQP when writing their student learning outcomes had an easier time defining useful direct assessments that apply to each of the areas of learning, using assignments embedded within program curricula and capstone courses. This process also allowed the CPS Academic Quality Assurance office to see where opportunities existed for common assessments across programs.  We’re currently investigating the possibility of expanding the use of ePortfolios within the College so that we can use the AAC&U VALUE Rubrics with signature assignments in multiple programs for benchmarking and continuous improvement purposes.

In addition to looking at programs broadly, we were able to use the DQP to go in depth into student learning and program quality. As a pilot, we undertook a collaborative project with two of the most popular degree programs in CPS: the Bachelor of Science in Leadership and the Master of Science in Leadership. The learning outcomes from the Degree Qualifications Profile were used to analyze the syllabi, book selection, assignments, and course-level learning outcomes to understand where the programs were and were not differentiated well. Program faculty were able to take that information back to use in their own curricular improvements to strengthen student learning and program quality at each level. As our assessment initiatives mature, we look forward to replicating these approaches on a larger scale.