“Our true ability to rise to the occasion…” by Dr. Melissa Williams

I am willing to bet few people wish to see 2020 last any longer than it must- and we are all instead looking to the optimism of a new year, a new time for government, and the rollout of a vaccine. We’ve changed our personal and professional lives more in one year than many do in a decade- from learning Zoom to meet and teach, to discovering what is and is not most important to us personally and professionally. As a nation, we have been challenged by our oldest skeletons of race and gender inequality while also witnessing beautiful moments of solidarity. Those in education were forced into challenging evolutions of student learning. The pre-pandemic idea that online/ remote/ e-learning was the clear nemesis of ‘traditional’ education, now is more nuanced. 2020 exposed one true reality- nothing is just black or white. Gray is the new black. We need to be okay with that and act on it.

How we individually and collectively react to this will determine our true ability to rise to the occasion this new year, decade, understanding presents. If you haven’t noticed, the AHEE Board is going through a bit of reflection. This is our crossroads- where we have been and where we want to go. In this case, for the December Blog entry: 2021 the year we optimistically determine our new norms.  

What better time is there to take stock of what we accomplished and determine how best to proceed? Since the beginning, institutional research, assessment, and institutional effectiveness have guided the progress of higher education’s data-informed decisions and reduction of silos, while also entertaining a challenge as to how to differentiate each professional association from the others. What higher education is not missing is organizations to address improvements: AHEE, AIR, NILOA, AAHLE … all have a clear focus on improvements and effectiveness and intersect/ duplicate efforts. Like me, many in the field have overlapping memberships and interests.

Yet, what I don’t think has been addressed clearly- and my hope for how AHEE can engage- is the ability to see our field’s story: Institutional Effectiveness is the result of integrating assessment of outcomes and evaluation of alignment to mission and strategies via IR. Institutional Research is the data gathering that helps explain an institution’s performance to its mission.  Assessment is the act of data gathering that guides curricular improvements. The success of IE in higher education depends on integrating the success of assessment with the success of IR practices.

Institutional Effectiveness is a process of coherently telling the story of success toward its mission and strategies by integrating both IR and Assessment. IE makes sense of the gray. It is about taking all the puzzle pieces and creating the whole story. If we are not willing to engage IE as the penultimate result of IR and assessment data, then IE will never become what the industry needs: a cohesive thread to tie the story together. Maybe it is time to apply our gospel to our Association’s actions. AHEE has the ability to become the partner thread, solidifying IE as the open, integrated system focused on coherent flows of data-driven information. Information that supports diverse, inclusive, and equitable improvements for student success, and thus, higher education’s effectiveness.