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How RMU Improves Student Learning and Student Services
Accrediting agencies, legislators, parents, funders and employers of college students and graduates are demanding that colleges provide more and better evidence that they are fulfilling their educational missions. Higher education costs continue to escalate and people want to know that their investments are producing results. RMU and other accredited colleges and universities are constantly gathering data in order to measure how well they are serving students and improving their operations. The umbrella term for these activities is "outcomes assessment."
What is Outcomes Assessment?
Outcomes assessment describes the measurement activities that colleges conduct to determine what and how well their students are learning and how well student learning is being supported. Outcomes assessments differ from course grades in their scope. They are broader measures than individual grades, often covering learning across multiple courses or an entire academic program. Outcomes are also sought from activities outside the classroom as well as from alumni and external parties such as employers of RMU's graduates. The comprehensiveness of a college's outcomes assessment program, the findings from those assessments and its ability to prove that is uses those results to improve its services determine whether a particular school has an effective continuous improvement program. An effective outcomes assessment program provides actionable data and documented evidence that the college is fulfilling its mission.
Robert Morris University is presently accredited by the Middles States Commission on Higher Education. The Commission's outcomes assessment requirements are contained in Standards 5 and 6 of its publication, Standards for Accreditation and Requirements of Affiliation.
Outcomes Assessments at RMU
RMU's outcomes assessment program has several major components:
- The University's 2014-2019 five year strategic plan contains numerous quantifiable measures of success. The degree of attainment of these measures will be directly indicative of RMU's effectiveness at carrying out its educational mission.
- Pursuit of program accreditations for specific academic schools or majors has been an important objective at RMU over the past decade. This highly successful effort has resulted in the attainment of eight discipline-specific accreditations (Actuarial Science, Business, Computer Science, Education, Engineering, Nuclear Medicine, Nursing and Nursing Simulation). Two-thirds of all RMU undergraduates are now enrolled in accredited academic programs.
- The most direct evidence of student learning available can be seen in academic programs where students are required to pass comprehensive licensing examinations in order to work in their chosen career. Currently, three RMU majors have such a requirement prior to graduation (Education, Nursing and Nuclear Medicine Technology) and several other majors (Accounting, Actuarial Science, and Engineering) require licensing examinations soon afterwards.
- The University's contract with its faculty union requires faculty members to engage in assessments of learning outcomes in order to be considered for promotion.
- A wide variety of other assessment measures are employed at RMU. These measure areas such as student satisfaction with RMU's facilities and services, student engagement, employer satisfaction with RMU graduates, job placement rates, and adherence to published industry standards.
The outcomes assessment effort at RMU is administered in a decentralized way with each academic school and student support area given responsibility for implementation of assessments that are pertinent to each unit. These efforts are coordinated and directed by senior officers of the University.
Assessment data is helpful only if it is evaluated and then used to make necessary improvements. The University has a well-established, formal process to document its assessments and the improvements made on the basis of assessment data.
RMU has attained discipline-specific accreditations for many of its academic programs to accompany its University-wide accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. These program-specific accreditations include very specific and stringent requirements that RMU measure student learning in the accredited discipline. The possession of the accreditation itself is validation that the accredited academic program has passed in-depth, third-party scrutiny of its faculty, curriculum and outcomes.
Specialty Accreditations and Their Assessments
The applied nature of many of RMU's majors lends itself well to assessment. The graduates of three RMU undergraduate majors (Education, Nursing and Nuclear Medicine Technology) literally cannot work in their chosen field unless they pass national comprehensive examinations given at RMU during their senior years. These examinations are written by recognized experts in the field and a passing grade provides evidence that the test-taker has a body of knowledge sufficient to preform in their chosen career.
Graduates in other majors such as Accounting, Actuarial Science
, and Engineering must pass licensing examinations, in some cases they do so after they have left RMU so tracking their pass rates is not possible. In these instances RMU must rely upon feedback from employers and alumni in order to determine how successful the University is in preparing graduates for the examinations in those careers.
Assessment Results - Professional Licensing Examinations
RMU and other colleges also attempt to measure other types of outcomes, including student success in the general education portion of their studies (communication skills, social science and humanities courses taken by all undergraduates regardless of major), student satisfaction with RMU's facilities and services, students' degree of participation and engagement with in- and out-of-class learning and service activities, and alumni/employer satisfaction with the quality of education received at RMU.
General indicators of student success are also measured, including the one-year retention rate and six-year graduation rate of each entering freshman class, graduates' job placement rates, and other indicators.
Assessment Results - Other Outcomes
Outcomes assessment provides RMU with evidence of how well it is carrying out all the activities that support the University's Mission. RMU has made great progress in using the findings from these measurement activities for institutional improvement. The University continues to aggressively seek other opportunities to measure its outcomes as well as to improve the processes that it employs to evaluate what it has learned from its assessment program.