The posting below is a review by Elizabeth H. Sibolski of the book, Demonstrating Institutional Effectiveness, by Michael F. Middaugh. The review appeared in Planning for Higher Education. 38(2): 55-57.(www.scup.org). Reprinted with permission. Planning for Higher Education book reviews appear at:(www.scup.org/phe). Citation: Elizabeth H. Sibolski. 2010. Review of Planning and Assessment in Higher Education: Demonstrating Institutional Effectiveness, by Michael F. Middaugh. Planning for Higher Education. 38(2): 55-57. Reprinted with permission.
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Demonstrating Institutional Effectiveness
Michael F. Middaugh should need no introduction to the readers of this publication. Currently, he serves as associate provost for institutional effectiveness at the University of Delaware. Middaugh has a well-established and well-deserved reputation in planning and institutional research, and he is a past president of both the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) and the Association for Institutional Research. He also currently serves as a commissioner and chair of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, one of the major regional agencies responsible for accrediting institutions of higher learning in the United States.
One of the sustained themes of his career has been an abiding belief in the importance of sound managerial practices in higher education. His most recent publications have focused on this area and, in particular, on the need for and importance of connecting mission-based planning with assessment to further the cause of institutional improvement.
It is easy for me to provide this brief introduction and a review of Middaugh's latest book because his career path and my own have been similar in some respects, and we share that belief in the importance of good management. In 2006, SCUP published a book that we co-authored with David Hollowell. That work, Integrating Higher Education Planning and Assessment: A Practical Guide (Hollowell, Middaugh, and Sibolski 2006) provides something of a conceptual starting point for the current work.
Some readers may wonder whether our past connections might make it impossible for me to deliver an impartial review. However, those past connections and my current assignment as interim president of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education provide a vantage point from which I can offer something of an insider's view of the work that I hope will counter any reader concerns.
Middaugh indicates that the primary purpose of the book is to provide a tool box that will assist in the effective and efficient management of institutions of higher learning. Toward that end, he proposes a variety of methods and strategies for assessing institutional effectiveness and discusses the interpretation, communication, and use of data gained from assessment processes.
It may not be evident to some readers why a book that is focused on institutional assessment should be of interest to college and university planners. SCUP and its members continually address the concepts of good planning, but pay much less attention to the other side of the equation-assessment. That is unfortunate, because excellence in planning is not very meaningful or helpful without an understanding of the extent to which goals and objectives have actually been achieved. The connections between institutional planning and assessment need to be reinforced, and I hope that this book will contribute to an understanding that good planning cannot and should not exist without organized, documented, useful, and sustainable assessment practices.
As noted previously, Middaugh highlights the usefulness of assessment as a management tool. He tackles the better known and understood areas of assessment such as student engagement and learning and instructional costs and productivity, and he also highlights methods and strategies in administrative areas where assessment is more difficult. In all of these areas, assessment results help those charged with management and oversight to understand and communicate whether and how well educational programs and related services are being delivered. Depending on the results achieved, managerial decisions might then be oriented toward remediation, maintenance of position, or further improvement.
A byproduct of this sort of management is that when done well, it provides accrediting agencies with the information that they seek and need in order to attest to institutional health. Middaugh correctly notes that all of the major U.S. regional accrediting bodies emphasize the importance of both planning and assessment. In fact, what is true of the regional accrediting agencies is also generally true of disciplinary and other accreditors.
Planning and assessment practices are also important as they contribute answers to calls for public accountability. A great deal of money is being poured into higher education in the United States, and it should not be surprising that the public wants to know whether funds are being well spent and to what extent our colleges and universities are delivering on the promise of higher education. Toward the end of the book, Middaugh indicates that \"the more we master both the practice of and conversation about the assessment of institutional effectiveness and its relationship to solid strategic planning with our institutions and accreditors, the better prepared we will be to extend that conversation to those outside of higher education\" (p. 205). The observation is correct if somewhat understated.
Middaugh's books and articles are notable for readability and for the thoroughness of his approach. In this case, he begins by offering a historical perspective that explains the national context for assessment and planning in higher education. The first chapter provides a short tour of the literature that helps to place the current work in context. By the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, the golden age of U.S. higher education was passing. Continuous development had given way to business cycles of expansion followed by retrenchment, and the higher education literature began to address the case for good management (including planning and assessment) in colleges and universities. Most of the early literature, however, was conceptual and theoretical in nature. More recently, there have been a variety of works addressing good/best practices in either planning or assessment of institutional effectiveness, and some of the best of these offerings have been published by higher education associations such as SCUP. Moving beyond the conceptual/theoretical, Middaugh now makes a strong case for systematic and sustainable assessment directly tied to mission-based planning. In this volume he offers practical advice about what should be done, why it should be done, and how best to go about doing it.
Middaugh already holds an established place as an author of works on planning, institutional research, and assessment. He does not attempt to redo what others have covered previously, and, because of his work in the field, he is well aware of the gaps in the literature. With this work he has filled one of those gaps. Planning and assessment have been around long enough that we should all recognize that they are permanent features of the higher education landscape. These concepts do not represent another management fad that will fade with time. Middaugh speaks with authority about these matters, gained from direct experience working in the field.
In his introductory chapter, Middaugh says, \"The book will focus on how institutions might best conceptualize what must be measured to frame a credible discussion of institutional effectiveness, what data collection tools are most effective in gathering those measures, and which analytical strategies are most effective in translating data into information that can be effectively communicated to both internal and external constituencies\" (p. 20). He then proceeds to do exactly what he says by providing a tool box of strategies and measurement methods. The book includes chapters that address approaches to assessment of various student issues (chapter 3), student learning (chapter 4), human and fiscal resources that support teaching and learning (chapter 5), the context for evaluating teaching loads and instructional costs (chapter 6), and methods for assessing administrative effectiveness (chapter 7). In addition, the book provides a helpful guide to additional resources in the field.
This is not a cookbook, but should be understood as a survey of what may be possible in the assessment of institutional effectiveness. Each institution, with its unique history and current context, will need to carefully consider which approaches might work best. When strategies and measures are appropriate and assessments are well done, the results can provide clarity about where the institution stands and a sound foundation for forward planning.
The author's work is thorough and practical, but there is also a strong message about what institutions should do. Middaugh takes the position that \"colleges and universities require greater precision in what they measure, how the information is interpreted, and how it is best communicated\" (pp. 204-205). Institutions that are successful in doing this will create a culture of evidence and should enhance their managerial capabilities. As a result, these institutions should also have better prospects for communicating what it is that they do to accrediting and other external agencies and to the public.
Planning and Assessment in Higher Education: Demonstrating Institutional Effectiveness is a guidebook that should be on the shelf in offices of planning and institutional research, as well as in offices charged with responsibility for institutional assessment. In addition, the book can serve a wider purpose as an introduction and orientation or as a review of interconnected mission-based planning and assessment. In this context, I recommend it to senior-level administrators who might find it particularly useful in developing specific institutional approaches to management, to department heads and deans who stand at the front lines of institutional operations and who must plan and evaluate programs and services, and to new college and university trustees who might find it helpful as a frame of reference for institutional oversight responsibilities.
Hollowell, D., M. F. Middaugh, and E. Sibolski. 2006. Integrating Higher Education Planning and Assessment: A Practical Guide. Ann Arbor: Society for College and University Planning.