• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


Transfer and Outcomes Assessment

A question for my wise and worldly readers.

February 28, 2023

This one is a little wonky. General readers are warned.

If you’re in a program that accepts students with a lot of transfer credits—say, half or more of the degree—do you adjust your outcomes assessment protocols to account for that?

I’m looking for ways to get around obstacles to transfer, and this is one that comes up from time to time.

In the classic version of outcomes assessment, a capstone course shows the strengths and weaknesses of student performance at the end of a coherent program. The department then uses those results to identify areas of weakness and make improvements.

That model has always been a tricky fit for schools in which the entire program is only 60 credits. But it works reasonably well for “native” students at four-year institutions. The idea is that the entire curriculum is under the control of one department, so it has the ability—not always the will, but the ability—to make changes as needed.

When large numbers of students transfer in significant amounts of credits, though, the premise of the enterprise—that the department has enough control to make improvements—comes into question.

In theory, one could argue that as long as the sending institution did a good job of assessment, then the receiving one could focus only on assessing its own contribution. And there may be times when that makes sense. But some skills are built iteratively, so it’s hard to tease out which contribution came from where. When many of the courses aren’t under the control of the department doing the assessment, the findings may be of limited usefulness. And at a really basic level, we shouldn’t assume that the whole (meaning the program) equals the sum of its parts. We’ve all seen students leave skills behind in the classes in which they learned them. Programmatic coherence is more than a matter of addition.

So, this one is an open question to my wise and worldly readers, but particularly those who work at four-year schools that accept a lot of transfer credits. Do you adjust your outcomes assessment protocols around transfer? If so, how?

As always, I can be reached via email at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com, on Twitter at deandad, or on Mastodon at  deandad at-sign masto (dot) ai.


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Matt Reed

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