Notes from the ARC: Let's Go!

I am a student entering college. How do I know that I will gain the knowledge and learn the skills I need for my career – for my first job and, say…for the next 30 years?


I am a faculty member. How do I know I am teaching, guiding, and mentoring students to be ready to address societal and work-force needs?

I am an employer. How do I know that the graduate I hire is prepared and will be successful?


I am an institutional leader. How can I ensure that we are developing relevant, quality degrees that meet disciplinary outcomes and provide 21st century skills?


In the rapidly-changing higher education landscape, meeting the current and future needs of students, faculty, employers, and society is a daunting task. According to Anthony Carnevale, research professor and director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, “We now have about 840 different occupations with different skill profiles, compared with 270 in 1950. The number of postsecondary programs has quintupled since 1985, from 410 to about 2,260.” 


With the significant growth in occupations and programs, how does a student choose the right program and how does a university know it is offering the right programs?


One solution is the emerging new models in higher education that are built on learning outcomes, which help evaluate what should students know, understand, and be able to do upon graduation.  


This focus on learning outcomes first in building a program is known as “backward design”. Through backward design, one develops the learning outcomes, then the assessment (i.e., evidence of student learning), and finally the educational journey (i.e., activities, readings, discussions, assignments, etc.).  The learning outcomes are the framework for a program and from this flow the course learning outcomes, assessments (many are authentic project-based approaches), and teaching approaches are developed. 


Evidence of student learning outcomes, the call from employers for work-ready graduates, and preparing students for current and future career and societal needs has encouraged the recent growth in competency-based education (CBE) in which students must master all competencies through assessments.

Anthony Carnavale says it best: “Future American workers are facing an exciting yet withering journey to keep pace with change. The American higher education system is going to have to change far more than it has so far dared if it is an active helper to those workers, rather than a structural hindrance to them.”


Universities and colleges have tools and the talents to build a strong economy, educated society, and means for improve lives.  So let’s go.  


Laurie Dodge, Ph.D., is Vice Chancellor of Institutional Assessment & Planning and Vice Provost at Brandman University. She will present at the #2019ARC on Wednesday, April 10 at a session entitled, “Backward Design: The Secret Sauce to Building Relevant and Quality Programs.”

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