An additional layer to program student learning outcomes (8.2.a)

This is the fourth in a series focused on SACSCOC interpretations of the Principles of Accreditation.

8.2.a (Student Outcomes: Educational Programs) is is not a Core Requirement but is a DOE standard. This means that an on-site committee must take a look at this one regardless of the judgement of the off-site committee. 

More than 60% of institutions are found out of compliance after the off-site review. The struggle continues after that, with more than 30% out of compliance after the on-site review and over 10% out of compliance after review by the SACSCOC Board.

There is a June 2020 Interpretation, but we will look at the basics of this standard first.

8.2 The institution identifies expected outcomes, assesses the extent to which it achieves these outcomes, and provides evidence of seeking improvement based on analysis of the results in the areas below:
a. Student learning outcomes for each of its educational programs.

It seems simple enough. You have program student learning outcomes (PSLO), you assess the extent to which students achieve them, and you make changes seeking improvement. Let’s review that last part again. Changes seeking improvement. The standard does not require that you determine if improvement happened, you just have to show that a change was made. In my experience it is this last piece of the standard that leads to most of the non-compliance issues; documenting that changes were made. Let’s talk about changes first; these don’t necessarily need to be profound changes. Maybe re-ordering the course content to improve student learning, maybe more instructional time on X countered with less on Y, maybe a new textbook or lab manual that is more readable, maybe professional development for faculty, etc.

The common pitfall here is when the assessment report, whatever form it takes in your institution, says something like “students struggled with X, so we will do Y”. Cut and print, we are all done! No, you are not. SACSCOC committees don’t care what you are going to do, they care what you can show that you did. If a change takes effect in the next academic year, you have to provide evidence that the change was made.  Consider the examples below.

ChangePotential Evidence
Develop and implement new assignment to reinforce knowledge needed to achieve the outcomeThe new assignment. A syllabus that shows how the new assignment figures into the course grade.
A new textbookA screenshot of the new book cover. A syllabus that shows the new book.
New laboratory equipmentA PO or, better yet, a vendor invoice for the purchase
Increased instruction in library researchA syllabus showing the additional library instruction. Communications detailing the specific instruction needed or handout from the librarian handling the instruction.
Adding a prerequisite to increase base knowledge before enrolling in the class in which the outcome is assessed.Curriculum forms that show the added prerequisite. Catalog page that shows the new prerequisite.

You get the idea. By the time you include an assessment cycle in a SACSCOC report, all of it should be written in past tense. “Students struggled with…” and “We implemented…” or “a new assignment was developed…” or “a prerequisite was added…”. All past tense, all changes implemented, all changes documented.

Now for the June 2020 interpretation that can be found here. This section of the BLOG is aimed at community colleges or colleges that primarily award two-year degrees. Most colleges of this type issue one “transfer” degree with multiple concentrations or pathways based on a student’s career goals. For some time, the general education student learning outcomes assessment (8.2.b) was offered by these institutions as the transfer program PSLO assessment for 8.2.a. I did this a time or two myself while working at various institutions.

The interpretation says different. If you list the transfer pathways in the catalog, or in any sort of advising guide or online platform that students can see, then each of the pathways is considered a “program” in the context of standard 8.2.a. Recently a SACSCOC Vice President indicated to me that this was always the unwritten expectation for 8.2.a, but now it is written in the form of the new interpretation and committees are looking for these outcomes. How many transfer pathways do you have? Twenty? Fifty? More? Most community colleges have a large number of pathways. Do you have to develop outcomes and assess them for each of the pathways? Maybe, but probably not. We can help you sort this out.

At Southeastern Accreditation Consultants, we’re ready to collaborate and support your accreditation efforts. From collaborating on strategy to reviewing narratives to building your documentation, we offer individualized services to best meet your needs. Contact us to get started.

Published by Douglas A. Wymer

Throughout an academic career spanning nearly 20 years, Dr. Wymer participated in many site visits (both substantive change and reaffirmation visits) for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) and he has been a visiting team member for the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges with the Western Association of Colleges and Schools. In addition to serving as a team member, Dr. Wymer has served as a visiting committee chair for SACSCOC. After earning a B.S. in Biology (with a minor in Chemistry) from what was then Shorter College, an M.S. in Entomology from Clemson University, and a Ph.D. in Environmental Science from Tennessee Technological University, Dr. Wymer started a rewarding career in academia. He earned tenure and achieved the rank of Associate Professor of Environmental Sciences at The University of West Alabama and served in a number of administrative roles at UWA including Department Chair and Assistant Dean. He served as a Department Head at Pensacola State College and, after a year in that position, was promoted to Dean of Baccalaureate Studies and Academic Support. In 2016 he became the Vice President of Academic Affairs at Lake-Sumter State College, where he served for four years before launching Southeastern Accreditation Consultants.

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