The idea of assessment is neither new nor radical. The concept is intimately tied to the culture of inquiry and the atmosphere of intellectual curiosity that are the foundations of learning in higher education. The process of assessment must begin with something called institutional curiosity (Maki, 2002). What do we want to know about our students? What feedback do we need to ensure that our collective efforts have the greatest impact on students’ lives? Let’s face it—a career in higher education is not the most logical pathway to fame or fortune. Most of us are here because we care deeply about making a difference in students’ lives. Assessment will help us to see that impact more clearly and will help us to make even greater impacts for even larger numbers of students in the future.
Nurturing a culture of assessment demands that we remain focused on institutional curiosity. A successful assessment program will sustain itself if faculty and staff are involved in measuring and evaluating outcomes that we truly care about. Assessment is really not about complying with external mandates from system offices or accrediting agencies. These external forces are on the periphery of our assessment efforts, but they should not prescribe what we deeply care about as a college. To use an analogy, it boils down to the difference between a student who learns based on what appears on the next test and one who learns based upon a passion to understand. Which of those will translate best into a self-sustaining, life-long model of learning and self-renewal?