During my previous employment as an Accreditation Manager, there were many inquiries from students, faculty, and leadership about the work assignments and elements that make up an Office of Institutional Effectiveness. I could certainly inform them about the structure and operations within the Office for which I worked. However, if you sought out other higher education institutions with an Office of Institutional Effectiveness and examined their efforts, you would find that many institutions have their own unique approach, and in many cases, have their own unique definition for what institutional effectiveness means. Processes to manage accreditation, facilitate institutional research, and operationalize program review and assessment tend to vary amongst institutions as a result of the diversity of institutions and the variance in priorities and capabilities.
Keening, Underhile, and Wall stated that the traditional structures of most higher education institutions do not organically support the integration of learning experiences, the establishment of institution-wide desired learning outcomes that define the overall, transformative goals of engagement with higher education, or the assessment of the institution’s effectiveness in achieving those goals (2007). With this concept in mind, can we validate that because an institution has an Office of Institutional Effectiveness that there are assurances in place for an institution to meet its goals? Many institutions have procedures and systems in place to support the tracking, analysis, and synthesis of information. To ensure that an institution is on track to be successful and meet its goals, more meaningful and intentional strategies are needed.
The Cambridge dictionary defines effectiveness as the ability to be successful and produce the intended results. The information that we receive through institutional effectiveness practices can assist us with measuring whether institutions are achieving their goals and provide us with data that we can use for reports. While there is much focus on the results and measuring of effectiveness, how much time is spent on the developmental process, design, and quality in the delivery of curricula, admissions, student services, research engagement, leadership development, and other areas to cover all aspects and desirable outcomes that may be associated with the higher education environment? In addition, how can we confirm that the data collected and analyzed is valid and reliable for decision-making purposes?
It is admirable for an institution to have such an Office that can support oversight, reporting, research, and program development. However, many of these components only mirror procedures and measurements in place to gather, compile, and analyze information. While many of us can agree about the components that reside or could reside within an Office of Institutional Effectiveness, I charge the field with opportunities to encourage and elevate effectiveness using more intentional approaches by offering the suggestions below.
- Require staff, faculty, and leadership to engage with appropriate higher education professional associations at the local, national, and global level. These organizations often provide standards for specific areas within higher education, resources for doing work in the field, and opportunities for continued learning so that individuals can stay abreast of current topics of interest in the field.
- Partner and learn from colleagues in the field. Institutions come in all shapes and sizes with different missions, academic program offerings, and structures. Opportunities to connect and collaborate allows for diversity in perspectives and expanded knowledge sharing. Consider forming a regional taskforce or periodic convening to have open discussions, address challenges, and develop peer-reviewed toolkits, frameworks, and models that can be utilized in the field.
- Provide access to quality training for staff and faculty. Higher education professionals have acquired a variety of skills depending on their career pathway and previous experience. Their expertise will vary. Make time to provide meaningful training or provide them with opportunities to participate in training. If cost is a challenge, acquire a consultant or expert who can come to your institution to provide a group training or team up with local peer institutions to explore options to offer training.
- Establish appropriate timelines to accomplish milestones through suitable project management strategies. Allowing colleagues suitable time to collect information will support accuracy in information and allows time to reflect upon the information being gathered. Make it simple and easy for your institution without including multiple leads and chiefs who want to dictate what happens next. Utilizing an appropriate chain of command and respecting colleague workloads and roles is essential.
- Inform and involve students, faculty, staff, leadership, and external stakeholders in the work. This will ensure that all voices are being heard and can provide context for data and other results. Managing an ongoing steering committee or workgroup that meets periodically can allow for continued discussions and alleviate opportunities for gaps in resolving various issues.
- Maintain open communication across administration, academic departments, and offices. We often stay siloed in our work areas focused on our own specific projects and assignments. It’s critical to allow opportunities for open communication across campus so that intersections can be evaluated with reasonable action items for next steps in resolving issues. This type of engagement can also open doors for cross-training where needed and inform revisions to enhance business processes.
What ideas or suggestions do you have for encouraging institutional effectiveness utilizing stakeholders, partners, and other members of the campus community? Feel free to share your insight and experience on the AHEE listserv.
Keeling, R. P., Underhile, R., & Wall, A. F. (2007). Horizontal and Vertical Structures: The Dynamics of
Organization in Higher Education. Liberal Education, 93(4). Retrieved from https://www.aacu.org/