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Upholding Academic Quality in Oregon
In 2007, Oregon became a LEAP State. In support of the effort, the Oregon University System (OUS) created the Learning Outcomes and Assessment (LO&A) working group, charged with aligning student learning outcomes and assessment across the seven public universities. In 2011, the Higher Education Coordinating Commission superseded the OUS. Through systemic change, LO&A continued to lead conversations statewide about the meaning and measurement of academic quality in the context of a completion-minded reform agenda.
In the intervening years, community colleges and public universities in Oregon participated in AAC&U-led LEAP and Degree Qualifications Profile (DQP) projects, including the Quality Collaboratives and the Multi-State Collaborative to Advance Quality Student Learning (MSC). Recognizing the value of these activities, LO&A expanded its membership to include representatives from community colleges. State-level data on student learning and common rubrics prompted faculty conversations on assignment design and transfer of student learning based on outcomes.
LEAP-related initiatives, particularly the MSC, provide a common evidentiary framework to draw upon when working to improve and protect academic quality as state level and institutional policies move toward outcomes-based funding. In Oregon, this policy shift is embodied in the implementation of a Student Success & Completion Model, which funds public universities by degree completions. By 2020, nearly 60 percent of the state’s total university funding will be completion-based. With the advent of new completion goals comes anxiety and concern over academic quality. LEAP and the MSC have provided LO&A a framework and process to coordinate the assessment of student learning that can potentially be used across the state.
AAC&U’s Faculty Collaboratives project, with the goal to engage and mobilize faculty to lead transformational change, will elevate and support the work that LO&A has been doing for the past decade. LO&A periodically hosts an interinstitutional faculty conference, Teaching TALKS. The conference fosters cross-institutional networking and dialogue about teaching, assessment, and students’ academic growth. Though clearly valuable, these events have occurred sporadically due to inconsistent funding, lack of LO&A bandwidth, leadership changes, and shifting support at the state level.
The vision of Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC) is to “foster and sustain high-quality, rewarding pathways to opportunity and success for all Oregonians through an accessible, affordable and coordinated network for education achievement beyond high school” (2016). Faculty teaching expertise influences student retention and success; faculty development, therefore, is key to meeting the HECC vision. The goal of LO&A is to create a sustainable model for annual conferences at which faculty can collaborate with colleagues. Sustainability is dependent on dedicated funding and faculty engagement in the planning and implementation of the annual event. LO&A has therefore turned to existing networks for assistance, including the interinstitutional faculty senate, libraries, general education committees, and professional organizations. Following the lead of Phase 1 states, LO&A has connected with Centers for Teaching and Learning as collaborators in facilitating annual Teaching TALKS conferences.
Under the new model for statewide coordination of higher education that includes both community colleges and universities, Oregon is well-positioned to create a network to bring together experienced educators passionate about enhancing the student learning experience. AAC&U’s Faculty Collaboratives project has provided LO&A with the vision and support to elevate the academic quality and student success dialogues in the state of Oregon.
Higher Education Coordinating Commission. 2016.Oregon Higher Education Strategic Plan 2016−2020.
Sandra Bailey, Director, Academic Excellence, Oregon Institute of Technology; and Kay Sagmiller, Director, Center for Teaching and Learning, Oregon State University