Recommendations From Governors’ Task Forces on Education: College Quality: Schools Must Make A Difference in Lives of Students

September 10, 1986 2 min read

Does a Degree Tell Us What The Student Learned?

Many colleges and universities do not have a systematic way to demonstrate whether student learning is taking place. Rather, learning-and especially developing abilities to utilize knowledge--is assumed to take place as long as students take courses, accumulate hours, and progress “satisfactorily” toward a degree.

College “quality” should mean, at the least, that institutions are making a difference in the lives of individual students .... [L]earning should include the acquisition of knowledge and the development of increasing levels of ability to organize and use that knowledge.

The Task Force on College Quality decided to focus on how colleges and universities can demonstrate that student learning is occurring. Thus, the key organizing concept for our work has been assessment. In addition to investigating how colleges and universities can assess student learning, the task force also studied data on how student outcomes can be used to assess the effectiveness of academic programs, curriculums, and institutions.

We discovered that some colleges and universities in this country have undertaken serious efforts in the past few years to document the I learning that is taking place on their campuses. Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wis., and Northeast Missouri State University in Kirksville, Mo., are two notable examples, among others. In addition, these institutions are using this data to improve teaching and learning on their campuses.

The task-force governors learned that rigorous, systematic assessment programs help colleges and universities focus attention on, and enable them to demonstrate that they are accomplishing, their institutional missions ....

John Ashcroft

Governor of Missouri

Task force chairman


1. Governors, state legislatures, state coordinating boards, and institutional governing boards should clearly define the role and mission of each public higher-education institution in their states.

Governors also should encourage the governing boards of each independent college to clearly define its mission.

2. Governors, state legislatures, coordination boards, governing boards, administrators, and faculties should re-emphasize-especially in universities that give high priority to research and graduate instruction- the fundamental importance of undergraduate instruction.

3. Each college and university should implement systematic programs that use multiple measures to assess undergraduate student learning. The information gained from assessment should be used to evaluate institutional and program quality. Information about institutional and program quality also should be made available to the public.

4. Governors, state legislatures, and statewide coordinating boards should adjust funding formulas for public colleges and universities to provide incentives for improving undergraduate student learning, based upon the results of comprehensive assessment programs. Independent colleges and universities should be encouraged to do likewise.

5. Governors, state legislatures, coordinating boards, and governing I boards should reaffirm their strong commitment to access to public higher education for students from all socio-economic backgrounds.

6. The higher-education accrediting community should require colleges and universities to collect and utilize information about undergraduate student outcomes. Demonstrated levels of student learning and performance should be a consideration in granting institutional accreditation.

A version of this article appeared in the September 10, 1986 edition of Education Week as Recommendations From Governors’ Task Forces on Education: College Quality: Schools Must Make A Difference in Lives of Students